Before the White Man
Within two years prior to the beginning of this contest between natives and miners [in 1848] the writer saw the hunters' paradise of Upper Rogue River. He saw banded antelopes lying on the swells of land opposite where the City of Ashland now is, like flocks of peaceful sheep. He saw the watchful native runner, seemingly naked, start to carry the news of our parties' presence from village to village in advance of us. He saw them closing in on the trail we made into the snows of the Siskiyous, where, according to the estimate of our leader, Jesse Applegate, they would slaughter every one of us for the property one of us carried, if we gave them the chance. When they were surprised by us, three-fourths of them were clad in deerskins, with the hair yet on. That they fought for their native valleys according to their knowledge is no disgrace to them.
John Minto, "Treaties with Indians," Oregonian, Portland, December 4, 1900, page 19
TOLD BY AN INDIAN
Tales of Fierce Battles in the Far NorthwestOne windy, rainy morning I went to the tepee of old Hoo-sis-mox-mox (Yellow Hair), who had come to visit his friends among the tribes of the Umatilla Reservation at the time of their midsummer powwow. I had seen him and wanted to have a talk with this veteran Palouse chief born over a hundred years ago.
HALF CENTURY AGO
FIRST AND LAST ATTEMPT TO OUST BOSTON MEN.
Around the Fire in the Tepee of Old Hoo-Sis-Mox-Mox--A Fierce War.
(Copyright 1903 by Charles N. Crewdson.)
Written for The Evening Star by Charles N. Crewdson.
The old man was not at home. Several young Indians lay in the dripping tepee, stretched upon their blankets. As I started to leave the shelter of the wigwam one of the young fellows rose to his elbows and said to me:
"My friend, you had better not attempt to go until the storm is over. Besides I fancy Hoo-sis-mox-mox will be back pretty soon. You will find (I learn you are a newspaper man) that he can tell you many thrilling stories. He knows scarcely any English, but as I am familiar with both his language and yours I shall gladly act for you as interpreter."
"You will certainly be capable of doing that," said I to the young man.
"I suppose I should," he answered back. "Only a short while ago I held a chair at Chemawa, the Indian college, you know, near Seattle.
"You see, I am just on a visit to some of my friends and relatives who belong to the tribes of this reservation. I am a Yakima, yet I have here many kinfolks. And there is a great pleasure sometimes in casting aside the conventionalities of civilization.
"The blanket? Oh, that is the most comfortable thing to wear when one lives in a tepee. It serves for coat, overcoat, bed and cover. I lived the Indian life for four years once, but hadn't had on a blanket for a long time until yesterday. Here, pull of your coat and try one."
I wrapped myself within the folds of the bright woolen.
"Now, take a cigarette, half close your eyes, dream and you will be an Indian veritable," said my new acquaintance.
Comfortably stretching out, I little cared for the rain storm or the return of Yellow Hair. I learned from my companion, whose name was Stonewall Jackson, that his father soon after the Civil War had come from Tennessee to the state of Washington, and, like many of our pioneers, married an Indian girl. My friend, then, was an educated halfbreed.
"You have tried on, then, both the wild life and the civilized. Which do you like the better?" I asked.
Would Choose the Wild."Why, certainly I prefer the civilized life, but can you not see how those who have been reared close to nature's heart would choose the wild? It must have been some satisfaction to my mother's people to roam at will over this vast country and have no barbed wire fences in their way and no signs stuck about, 'Keep Off the Grass.' Their tribal warfare was only daring sport. And wait until you see the big parade! You will say that it equals a pageant of kings.
"At any rate, when the Indians were called upon by the whites to give up the larger part of their country--they fought."
"That was in the war of '55?"
"Yes, in what is known as the Yakima War, because it was led by Kamiakin, head chief of the Yakima Indians."
"Your mother's people?"
"Well, what was the cause of that war? I know that you can discuss it fairly, as you have in you the bloods of the two races."
"There were many causes. In the first place, I must say for the Indian that until he was badly abused he was always very good to the white man. Read the journals of early explorers and you will find that all of the tribes in this country, with the exception of the Wishrams, were kind to the whites, giving them ponies and, at times, dividing with them their scanty stores of food. The Indians were confiding, and traders among the pioneers took advantage of them, exchanging worthless trinkets for valuable furs. The missionaries tried to teach them that their inherited religion was false. Settlers poured in and occupied their lands. They stood everything but being driven from their pastures and hunting grounds. This was the culminating cause of the war.
A Fierce War."And it was a fierce war, too. All tribes from the Pacific to the Rockies acted in concert. They made their first and last attempt to oust the Bostons. Boston man, you know, is what the Indian calls the white man, because the first expedition of whites to this country was from Boston. The Boston man then was gradually driving the Indians from their lands. The various tribes made simultaneous attacks at places many hundred miles apart."
"But how could they do that? They couldn't use telegraphic instruments," said I.
"Oh, yes they could--literally, 'telegraph' meaning 'write far.' The Indians have always had a method of signaling which is almost as quick as telegraphing. They do this by building fires that send up columns of smoke. For example, a fire left to burn two minutes, then put out and started again after two minutes, is to the Indian what the clicking of the key is to the telegraph operator. When Custer was killed Indians told Mrs. Custer of it the next day after it happened. She was at Fort Lincoln--over three hundred miles from where her husband was massacred."
"Are the Indians then always on the lookout for signals?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, continually when they apprehend war. They send runners from tribe to tribe of those allied and establish a signal code; they appoint signal stations. These are along the trails. The Indians, you know, away before the times of the whites, had a trail clear from the mouth of the Columbia to the Mississippi. They are always built high up on ridges; the Indians, fearing surprise, never travel in a valley."
"But didn't the whites sometimes interpret these signals?"
"Yes, sometimes. But they were unable to help themselves much, and they could not answer back. My father has told me that during this very war of which we speak a band of whites coming west were told by friendly Nez Perces away over in Idaho of the forthcoming battle of Walla Walla, in the state of Washington, several days before it took place."
Two Veterans.While I was listening to Stonewall Jackson tell of these customs of the Indians old Hoo-sis-mox-mox came in. A hardy, white-whiskered, buckskin-clad old man was with him. The companion of Yellow Hair, I soon learned, was Bill Woodward, a famous old-time western scout. The two were wet. A young squaw placed a pile of sticks in the center of the tepee to make a fire. She didn't strike a match. Instead she took a bow and wrapped the string around the stick. This drill she placed on a piece of wood and began to saw with the bow so as to work the drill against the wood. Pretty soon sparks lit the dry shavings the squaw had placed around the base of the drill. With these she started the fire. The smoke rose and, curling out of the blackened top of the wigwam, mingled with the raindrops.
"But we are forgetting about the war," said my new friend.
"Yes, tell me of it," I spoke up eagerly.
"No, I had better let Chief Hoo-sis-mox-mox do that if he will. He was all through it."
My interpreter spoke to Yellow Hair, explaining that I wished to know about war. The old chief motioned me to a place near him. Stonewall Jackson sat between us. The drowsy young bucks also came to the fire and squatted about it, drawing around them their blankets. We all sat around the crackling blaze. A prominent figure in the circle was the old scout, Bill Woodward.
"The chief says that he had better tell you first about the great council," said my interpreter. "You know, as I have told you, there was a bad feeling among the Indians all west of the Rockies. Down south of Portland in the Rogue River Valley there was trouble, and up around Puget Sound there was also an outbreak. Matters were not so serious in these regions, however, as in the Walla Walla country. The President empowered I. I. Stevens, who was then Governor of Washington Territory, to treat with the Indians. The Governor called a great council that he might try to induce them to give up the larger portion of their lands and go on small reservations. This was the famous Walla Walla council, which took place near here in the summer of '55. This is the powwow of which Hoo-sis-mox-mox says he will tell you."
The Big Pow-Wow.The old chief sat flat upon a buffalo skin. He now let his striped blanket drop behind him. He was going to use his hands. An Indian can't talk without making signs. His long, yellow hair fell over his slightly stooped shoulders. His eyes were clear. But for the tremor of his lips, in seeming, he was not a hundred years old. But his story was soon to bespeak his age.
"Long time ago," old Yellow Hair began, "first Boston man (Lewis and Clark) come to this country. I papoose that time. My grandfather chief Palouse tribe. Boston man give him (my grandfather) flag. Flag have stars--all same heaven nighttime."
Here the old chief pointed upward.
"First Boston man and my grandfather smoke him pipe," he continued. "First Boston man tell my grandfather about Great White Father in Washington, all same Roosevelt now. My grandfather say to first Boston man: 'Earth your mother; earth my mother; Boston man and Injun brother.' My grandfather give him (first Boston man) heap pony. First Boston man go to great water where sun go down. My grandfather keep him flag. He say to Palouse people: 'Great White Father in Washington heap good man. Palouse Injun be good all time to his people.'"
Old Yellow Hair as he told me of his grandfather held up one hand. With the other he took mine and touched with it his little finger. "That me," said he. He next had me touch his ring finger, saying, "That my father." When I touched his middle finger, "That," said he, "my grandfather."
"My grandfather die," the old chief went on, "my father chief. My father keep him flag. Heap Boston man come. Boston man take heap Injun land. Boston man tear him breast of Mother Earth. Bimeby ["by and by"], Governor Stevens say he want all Injuns come big powwow Walla Walla. All Injuns make him smoke (the signal fires).
"Injun come powwow. Summer, long time, Walla Walla. I big man; first papoose big tillicum (warrior) that time. Heap tribes come. First come Nez Perces Injun, 2,500; Lawyer chief. Cayuse Injun come; Young Chief, chief. Walla Walla Injun come; two chief--Five Crows, Yellow Bird. Umatilla Injun come; Owhi chief. Yakima Injun come; Kamiakin chief. Five thousand Injun all."
Coming of the Tribes.Then Hoo-sis-mox-mox told us in detail how each tribe came. He made marks on the ground to show the spots each chose for his camp. The large band of Nez Perces came first. A mile away they stopped. Only the chiefs rode to greet the Governor. Then at a signal the whole 2,500 painted Nez Perces galloped in single file, encircling in a spiral the small group of whites. They being friendly pitched their tepees near to that of the Governor. The other bands came with a like show. But none of them was friendly. When the Governor offered them tobacco they did not take it. This foreboded evil.
"Governor Stevens stay long time--one moon. He take leaves, make arbor, keep sun away. Some day Stevens make him big eat under arbor. First time heap chief no come. Bimeby all chief come big eat. Every day Stevens make him heap talk. He say he want Injun name on paper. He want Injun give Boston man heap land; he want Injun go on reservation all same Injun got him reservation this time. Injun go on reservation. Great Father in Washington give all chief heap money every year. Great Father in Washington give all Injun money; give all Injun blanket, shirt, gun, heap thing. Great Father in Washington give all chief heap money every year. Great Father in Washington give all Injun money; give all Injun blanket, shirt, gun, heap thing. Great Father in Washington make him Injun house all same Boston man. Great Father in Washington make him Injun know book.
Heap Much Talk."Injun talk. Lawyer, Nez Perces' chief, say: 'Nez Perces Injun know Boston man long time. Boston man bring Nez Perces book of Heaven. Nez Perces believe Boston man talk straight. Nez Perces obey law of Great White chief in Washington.' Nez Perces chief, Lawyer, sign him paper.
"Young Chief talk. Young Chief say: 'Boston man, I show you my heart. This country all same Injun mother. This country give Injun birth; this country give Injun suck. If Injun say, "Boston man, sell your mother," how Boston man feel? Cayuse Injun no want Boston man house, Boston man money, Boston man book.' Young Chief no sign paper.
"Five Crows talk. Five Crows say: 'I no sell land. One time I talk with Earth. Earth say: "Great Father put Earth here take care Indian. Earth make him roots for Indian, grass for pony." One day I talk with Water. Water make him talk all same Earth. Great Father say Injun no sell his country.'
"Owhi talk. Owhi say: 'Owhi be afraid Great Father be mad if Owhi sell land.'
"Yellow Bird talk. Yellow Bird say: 'Injun skin red; Boston man skin white. Injun eye, Injun eye; Boston eye, Boston eye. Injun heart, Injun heart; Boston heart, no Injun heart. Yellow Bird no know what Stevens mean. Yellow Bird wants wait.'
"Kamiakin no talk."
Thus old Hoo-sis-mox-mox told us of the great council which finally resulted in all the Indians signing the proposed treaty. By its terms the Indians represented at the powwow ceded to the whites all of their country, except three reservations--the Umatilla, the Yakima and the Nez Perces. The government got the fine land of the Northwest for how much per acre? Two cents!
"Could you blame the Indians after this for their treachery?" said Stonewall Jackson to me as he explained more fully the words and meaning of Yellow Hair. "They signed the treaty because they were told they had to do so. Then they at once prepared for war.
Fight at Walla Walla."The only tribe that kept its word was the Nez Perces. In a few days all of the other tribes, urged on by old Kamiakin, the sullen Yakima chief, who at the powwow 'no talk,' began killing settlers. The whites raised a volunteer regiment and took the field. My father was one of them. They met the Indians in battle at Walla Walla."
"And you bet it was a great scrap, too," broke in the old scout, his eyes gleaming as he recalled the lively incidents of his young days out west.
"You were in the fight at Walla Walla, then?" I asked.
"Bet your life--right in the hot of it. And them Injuns certainly fit. We run into 'em at the mouth of a creek. We was both about 500 strong. It was colder'n h--l. The Injuns seen us. They come out jus' five of 'em, old Yellow Bird lead'n. He had a white flag. He comes up and tells Col. Kelly he don't want to fight. He asks the colonel to meet the Walla Wallas and have a powwow. The colonel kind o' thought the old chief wanted to play foxy and lead us all into the brush, where they could massy-cree us all. But the colonel wouldn't let Yellow Bird and the four Injuns with him go. and pretty soon we heard the d-------t whoopin' and yellin' of your life. Every bush was an Injun. And how they did scrap!
"About this time Wolfskin, who was one of the five prisoners, think'n', I guess, we was onto their game, jerks out a knife, stabs one of our boys and tries to get away. In a minute there was five dead Injuns. Yellow Bird was one of 'em. With them Injuns in the brush we had it nip and tuck until night.
"They was sly devils. Next mornin' we thought they had all gone. We struck into the brush. All at oncet they popped up again. And what do you reckon they'd done? They'd tied dry grass in their hair and on their backs so that they looked jus' the same color as everything around 'em. They dug holes and got into 'em, and we couldn't tell where an Injun was. But I reckon we got about twenty of 'em jus' the same. You know you can't tell how many Injuns you kill, because they always carry off their dead to keep you from scalpin' 'em.
"I'd like to tell you more about the scrap, but the rain's kind o' let up and I've got to be goin'. My mules got out of the corral last night. I've got to round 'em up."
When the flap door of the tepee had closed behind the old scout I asked my educated half-Indian friend if the battle of which we had just heard closed the war.
"Oh, no," said he. "After the battle of Walla Walla and a few other fights a second council met. But the Indians would not make terms. They were finally overcome in the north. Yet they came near wiping out the entire command of Colonel Steptoe. This officer had gone to the Palouse country to build roads. He left most of his ammunition behind. He met the Palouses and the Coeur d'Alenes. They professed friendship, but they talked among themselves, planning a massacre. Timothy, a Nez Perces chief, who was acting as guide to Steptoe, stepped up to Saltese, the Coeur d'Alene, and said: 'What for you talk two tongues? You say white man you be his friend, you say [to] your people you kill Steptoe.'
Steptoe's Escape."Luckily it was near nightfall, and Steptoe was able to defend himself until dark. That night the enemy surrounded Steptoe. Thinking that they could best secure their prey the following morning, they gave up the darkness to the revel of a scalp dance. But Timothy went on a scout and found an unguarded pass. Through this he led Steptoe's company, and within twenty-four hours got them to the Snake River, where friendly Nez Perces squaws ferried them across out of the hostile country.
"It required severe measures to end this war. Colonel Wright, however, was the man for it. He came to Spokane Plains and gave battle to the Indians there. Hoo-sis-mox-mox here was leading one of the five hostile tribes then, the Palouse. He can tell you about this better than I."
"Wright come," began old Yellow Hair. "Injun say, 'We no let him slip away all same Steptoe.' Wright no Steptoe. Steptoe say he come make road. Wright say he come fight. Wright catch him Injun pony--two thousand pony. Wright kill him all Injun pony. Injun say, 'Wright heap big Boston.' Wright fight Injun. Spokane close. Injun fight. Bimeby Wright shoot big bullet--big all same head. Injun say, 'What mean big bullet?' I say Kamiakin, Yakima chief: 'My grandfather time first Boston man give Injun flag. Injun say he keep law great white chief in Washington. This day Injun fight Boston man. Great white chief tell Wright shoot big bullet, make Injun keep law.' Kamiakin say: 'Injun fight little bullet; Injun no fight big bullet.' Great Boston chief Kamiakin give Wright gun; all Injun give Wright gun.
"Yellow Hair no more fight him Boston man. Yellow Hair heap glad. Yellow Hair been good Injun since that day. You stand on this land--Boston man; I stand on this land--Injun. Same Father make Boston man make Injun. Boston man all same Injun brother."
The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., November 28, 1903, page 31
The Indians had a big feather dance at the Metcalfe Hall Saturday. Although it was a stormy night, a good crowd was present. This dance was gotten up by the Indians to celebrate the Dawes Act giving the Indians their liberty and also a deed to their land in fee simple after the expiration of twenty-five years. The Indians call this celebration their Fourth of July. Much interest was taken by Indian women in preparing their costumes for this event. It was something out of the ordinary. Their wampum belts and feather headdresses were more gaudy and beautiful than usual. In the dance they seemed to have lost some of their ancient and most beautiful songs. A Rogue River chief was asked to start one of their ancient songs. He stepped forward in front of the gay dancers and said in jargon, "My friends, how can I sing? My people are nearly all dead. I am alone, my heart is sad. I cannot sing. But if you people will help I'll start some of the old songs." And they did help. It was sad and pathetic. The chief continued: "Years ago before we saw the white man we had big dances; our wigwams would not hold the people. We were happy then; our children played upon the green and around our tepees, and all were happy and full of life. The timid deer played upon the hills; the coyotes' bark we heard in the distance. We worshiped God in nature and every thing around. In the fall of the year when the berries began to get ripe, when the camas was ready to dig and the acorns to be gathered, and the rivers were full of fish, the mountains with game, then we would come together and have a big dance and big feed, and thank the Great Spirit for his goodness. But these happy days have passed away; my eyes are full of tears and my heart is sick. The feather dance which the old folks so much enjoyed will soon pass away. Our children will read of it only in the white man's books." Such was the lamentation of Chief John when called upon to reproduce some of the ancient songs of the Rogue Rivers.
"Siletz," Lincoln County Leader, Toledo, Oregon, February 14, 1919, page 1
THE ROGUE RIVER TRIBES AND THE FIGHT FOR GOLD
By ELWOOD ALFRED TOWNER
Attorney for Oregon Indians
Myrtle Point, Oregon
The writer has written several articles relative to the Indian religion, customs, education and teachings, and covered the red man in his native surroundings and environment, and at this time I wish to explain for the benefit of those who are more or less biased in their opinions and connections, the geographical boundaries of the various tribes in our district, and also to cover the several causes of dissension and proximate reasons of the Tututni or Rogue River war in the early days.
The two most important causes of the above war in the early fifties was the greed and lust for "gold" by the early miners and most of the white pioneers and also the flagrant disregard of the moral code upon the part of a few ruthless and degenerate whites who saw fit to debauch the Indian women and girls, and this class of perverted and contorted racial mixtures have caused more crime and grief wherever they lived up to and including our present period and for time immemorial '"that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary."
Criminologists agree the county over that this class as a whole are greatly inferior both physically and mentally to the average people, and tests conducted amongst the inmates of our prisons and other institutions affirm the above contention and views. [Towner, alias "Red Cloud," was an admirer of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, with all the beliefs that implies.]
It is common knowledge in our country here and also in the Black Hills country in South Dakota that the Indians in the early days possessed trinkets manufactured from "gold," and this my friends is why a campaign of bloodshed, lust, greed and crime was carried on by our early white "heroes" to divest, rob and steal the lands occupied by the Indian people. [No known account reports the Rogue Rivers making "trinkets" of gold.] It was not the pace of progressive civilization that removed the red men from their hunting and fishing grounds and homes, but the white instincts of greed and jealousy and filthy "Shylock" desires and a worship of the almighty dollar and precious yellow metal that seems at present the average American "god." Gold, crime and greed it would seem all go in hand in hand the world over at our present time, and our entire Christian era apparently have supplanted the above for our present interpretation of the 10th Commandment, and the poor red men are not alone the recipients of a world of woes and lavender-scented and rose-tinted barbs people let fly at each other in our great national pastime and game of life in our dizzy and insane quest for wealth. The world in general seems to be mortally afflicted and suffering with many unknown types and forms of insanity and maladies, and jealousy, greed and maniacal lust for wealth and hate will mean our "Waterloo" in the end to the red man's instincts, and clearness of vision which is a part of the forest and Indian training can but see the "handwriting on the wall" and ultimate doom of our great and courageous country, for like men of courage and honor, their fall is greater, their demolishment more complete when it comes. The soul of the Indian, the faint movements and sounds of the forest gloom and will of our "Great Spirit" will in the end prevail, and this is a promise my friends that will not be denied our race and people.
In the late forties the red men were warned of the coming of the "white plague" and their desire for "gold," and so a council was held on "Skookumhouse Butte" on the Tututni or Rogue River. The council was represented and attended by twelve tribes who comprise the Tututni Nation of Rogue River Indians. Among the things and matters decided at the council was that if our people were killed or exterminated, they would never reveal to the whites the secret and source of their gold supply.
History will never reveal the cruelty of the whites, miners and soldiers, and their many barbarian methods of torture and death resorted to by them to extract the secret from the Indians relative to their mines. Many red men suffered torture and death at the hands of our white "heroes" who saved and pioneered the country in the above process that would put to shame the crimes of the Dark Ages, but in every case the lips of our people were sealed in death and the secrets of gold were never revealed.
Some gold was found by the whites in later years it is true in the Curry County and Rogue River country, but the fountains of wealth and fortunes shall ever remain in the minds of our people who were removed from the above country in the late fifties by the soldiers and whites in their mad quest for the yellow metal and who killed the Indians like the goose that laid the golden egg.
Among other matters decided at the above council was that the Wishtenatin tribe of people were to live south of the present Pistol River to police petty thievery and depredations of the Indians south of the present Chetco River who were not members of the Tututni Nation. The Nasomah tribe was to live on the Coquille River near its mouth to police the northern domain of the nation from petty thievery, etc. on the part of the Coos Bay Indians. For the benefit of my readers and for historical purposes, I here relate the districts occupied by the twelve tribes who comprised the Tututni or Rogue River Nation of red men at the time the whites appeared in the country. The Nasomah band resided on the coast south of the Coquille River, east to the forks of said river, and south to the Quatomah or Floras Creek in Curry County. The Choc-re-laton band occupied the country east and south of the forks of the Coquille River and south to the Quatomah Creek. The Quatomah tribe claimed the country east and south of Floras Creek and south to "Humbug Mountain." The eastern boundaries generally were the summit of the Coast Range of mountains. The Cosatt-Hentens resided in the Mussel Creek country and east to the mountains in Curry County. The Euchres occupied Euchre Creek country and east to the mountains. The Yashutes lived on lower Tututni or Rogue River and east about three miles of said stream. The Chetlessenton tribe lived south of Hunters Creek in Curry County and east to the mountains. This was the Myers Creek and Hunters Head country. The Wishtenatin band lived in the Pistol River district in Curry County. The Chetco tribe occupied the Chetco River country. The Tututni tribe occupied the strip of about two miles or territory east of the Yashutes on the lower Rogue River. The Mikonotunne band lived east of the Tututni band on Rogue River and their country extended east of the Cosatony Creek and Skookumhouse Butte on Rogue River. The Shasta Costas lived on the Illinois and east on Rogue River on this junction of streams.
The above twelve bands my friends represented the Tututni Nation, who were once powerful and controlled all the country from the Coquille River to the California line and east to the valley, and greed for gold and death at the hands of the whites greatly depleted their numbers until the remnants of the once-powerful bands were removed to a reservation in the northern part of the state of Oregon by the whites in their mad scramble for wealth, gold and fame. The spirit of our people was broken in the loss of their homes and hunting grounds, and the American people have broken faith with them, but the spirit, pride and loyalty of "Red Cloud" permits them to carry on the traditions and teachings of our "Great Spirit," and his reward to this vanishing race and chosen people will be our "Happy Hunting Ground," and degradation and ruin to those who worship "gold" is the silent prayer of our once-noble race and people. May the spirit of "Red Cloud" rest you all, my friends, in a benediction of love, sympathy, understanding and charity to my people, for our Great Spirit has never taught us a "Hymn of Hate," and we must be true to our blood and race. Auf wiedersehen (till we meet again).
--Wanka Ewanamieuk (Red Cloud)Myrtle Point Herald, July 7, 1932, page 7
An Indian Recalls
To the Editor: In scanning over the editorials, I ran across "Coquille's Own Problem." Now, being an Indian of the Chetco River, of some three-score and 12, I am supposed to know our language, with its names so far back as my great-grandfather. The old-timers (white men) tried to carry out names of the various tribes (P.O.) along the coast from Crescent City, Cal. to about 15 miles above or rather north of the mouth of the Coquille River. In this length of territory along the coast was one nation. Since the origination of the Curry County Indian Heir Association we have designated this as the "Te-to-tin Nation."Before the White Man: An Indian's Story
The natives in this territory spoke the same language. Natives north, east and south of us spoke a different language. So the name of the Coquille related to the Indians of the district. At the mouth of the Coquille River was Nah-so-met, where there was quite a settlement, killed off by the so-called pioneers.
Where Myrtle Point is now was called Choc-re-laton. Now this does not quite spell the name or names, as I am limited in my use of English letters to get the correct sound. Our language is about the hardest to interpret so as to make sense.
"Coquilth." This is as near as I can get to the original name as used by my people. Now I don't know of any of our places named from the French language. Floras Creek, Sixes River, Elk River, Port Orford, all south of the mouth of the Coquille River, have been named by the whites, with the exception of U-ka-chee, for Eu-ka-chee Creek. Chetco is an Indian name. Windchuck is an Indian name. Since the government established lines between Oregon and California, we do not go any farther south than this line now, so California cut off some of our people on the south.
There are only about three of the originals of my people now living, that I know if, who knew when the first white man came to our beautiful Chetco country, where we hunted the elk deer and the seal, so we were always contented and lived at our ease. We though that the so-called pioneers were pretty bad, but the New Deal has just about finished us up.
SAM VAN PELT,Oregonian, Portland, October 25, 1938, page 10
"The Pioneers Were Pretty Bad, but the New Deal Has Just About Finished Us Up,"
Says Sam Pelt
Several weeks ago, following a discussion on The Oregonian's editorial page over the source of the name "Coquille," Sam Van Pelt, designating himself as "an Indian of the Chetco River, of some three score and 12," wrote from Brookings an interesting letter to the editor in which he expressed the belief that the name was of Indian derivation, originally "Coquilth."
Concluding his letter, he remarked: "There are only about three of the originals of my people living, that I know of, who knew when the first white man came to our beautiful Chetco country, where we hunted elk, deer and seal, so we were always contented and lived at our ease. We thought that the so-called pioneers were pretty bad, but the New Deal has just about finished us up."
Sensing the possibility of an unusual story, The Oregonian asked Sam Van Pelt to prepare for this section material encompassing: First, how the Indians lived before the white man came; second, why the pioneers were "pretty bad," and third, how the New Deal "has just about finished us up."
The accompanying article is Mr. Van Pelt's own story.
Sam Van Pelt was born December 31, 1861, at Smith River. His father, Thomas Van Pelt, had settled along the Chetco River, taking an Indian wife, and for many years had wielded large influence among the Indians of the area.
The son followed in his father's footsteps as counselor and champion of his mother's people, and devoted much of his life to their cause. Lacking formal education, he acquired through native intelligence a wide knowledge of many things and a shrewd understanding of politics. So that he might better wage his fight to secure recompense to the Indians for lands taken by white settlers, he spent considerable time studying law.
Most of his earnings at his trades of boatbuilding and blacksmithing during his younger years were poured into the cause he espoused. Now, at 72 [sic], the sight of one eye gone and that of the other rapidly failing, Sam Van Pelt still hopes to secure for his people and their descendants the justice he feels they never received.
Lucy Dick, mentioned in the Van Pelt story, is the writer's mother-in-law, a little wisp of a woman, uncertain of step and totally blind, but still enjoying life in her warm seat behind the Van Pelt stove.
By Sam Van Pelt
TO THE EDITOR: In early days around the Chetco River, before the white man appeared. Chetco is about 4½ miles on the north of the Winchuck River ("win-chuck" is an Indian name for woman in the Klamath language; in our language woman is "compson-ton"), and Nol-ton-a-ton is some 6 miles on the north, with a population of about 1200 to 1500, while Winchuck has about 300 and Chetco about 2100.
This covers both sides of the river, at its mouth. Village on the north side comprised of about 40 houses and on the south side about the same number.
Houses were built of split puncheon (of redwood mostly) by excavating from two to four feet in the earth, then standing puncheons on end seven or eight feet high. Then a saddle comb roof was put on of the same stuff with the exception of a hole 3x6 feet in the middle of the comb. This is where the smoke escaped.
Meat: Elk and Deer Were Plentiful
There was a strip of territory of about a mile wide by ten miles long skirting the ocean where all kinds of game could be seen all day long. We had the grey wolf, panther, bear and wildcat by untold numbers.
Elk and deer meat were the principal meats used. In getting this meat the men would dig pits ten or 12 feet deep in the soft clay, five to ten feet in diameter. Then all of the young hunters would make drives across these pits. When the pits were full hunters would let the game go. Then they would kill and butcher what they would have and this was all divided with the old first, then the rest would take their share. These drives would take place about two times a year or as was necessary.
The hunters then would turn to the ocean for the various kinds of fish and seal. Seal and sea lion was used for oil. This oil was rendered out and put in dried sea calf skins to keep sweet until used up.
Seal and sea lion were easy game as the hunters caught them asleep on the beaches and rocks close in. Now we have no sea lion or seal and our salmon are gone.
In the fall of the year around about after the first frosts they would take their canoes and go up the river for the son-chon; this was the staff of life, made from the nut of the acorn. This was hulled and dried so it would keep without mildewing for winter use.
There was plenty of time for pleasure--dancing and all kinds of games. The only thing that was cultivated was tobacco, and that was sown in the shade of the myrtle bottoms along the rivers. The reason for planting in the shade was so it would be mild and pleasant to inhale.
There was another grand time they had, when in September the tun-ka-loo-ka (Chinook salmon) ran in the river. They would take their canoes and a boat puller and just throw their spears at random and soon have all they wanted for the day. This was all dried and put away for future use in large baskets called met-ton, which would hold about 500 pounds. That was used in winter months.
Now you see there were no depressions? Or overproductions. Our money was not bankable, hence we had prosperity all of the time.
Teeth: Retained into Advanced Age
Our old people lived to a great old age. I can't recall of hearing my ancestors having to pull any teeth, for those that were 80 or 90 years old would have every tooth, although some were worn very close to their gums. There were no diseases of any kind among my people before the white people came to our beautiful hunting and fishing land.
Here at this place I am giving you a little history of the only one that is alive today, lives here at Chetco--"Lucy Dick," who is in her later 90s. She gets a pension of $15 per month (New Deal). At first she received only $5 per month. She is about blind now, and it was for a long time she had to be waited upon, for she is past doing anything for herself.
She tells of her early girlhood days, when girls would help gather the young sprouts of the sulth (wild parsley), also tender sprouts of the salmon brush. (This was good for the system in the spring of the year.)
Now going back to where nature had provided for the ones who were supposed to live close to nature and as nature provided. There were no taxes or interest to pay, hence we people had all kinds of time for every kind of pleasure, as dances of various kinds. Shell dresses of various hues and styles were made for our dusky maids, who figured largely in all dances, with the exception of war, deer and religious dance. Some of these dances was carried on for days.
Mussels, clams and various other shellfish were gathered mostly from early fall to late spring. During the months of July and August the mussels were poor and not fit to eat; the Indians were some time poisoned, and sometimes fatally. There were few doctors who could rassle this poison. So in all we had all of the food we wanted to keep one strong and fit to combat the wild life.
Clothing, of course, was made from skins of different animals. Fur was had of the sea otter (no-gothl-hae-nee), which were seen by the acre afloat on the ocean amongst the sea kelp. The cha-yohst-shun (fisher) also used for clot-honeey (arrow pouch) but only by the better class. Also the torsion-met-ta (pine martin) was used for decorative purposes as head gear. A-chon-seet (weasel skin) was used as tobacco (saylth-ute) pouch by the sports.
Whites: Their Coming Brought Change
There are so many things I have left out. I have just hit here and there upon a few things. Of course by making notes when things come to me I then could recall things about my people's early government, religion and the various remedies used and their methods of cures. They believed in a spiritual world. Their god was spirits and he was all over.
Now, just a little about my people after the white man came to Chetco to view things. This was in the spring of 1852. There were Hiram Tuttle, Cris Tuttle, Jim Jones, A. F. Miller and my father, Thomas Van Pelt.
These were the first whites that came to stay. The two Tuttles located on the south side of the river and each took a donation claim. This location took in all of the houses of my people, on the south side.
A. F. Miller located on the north side of the river, which covered all of the buildings owned by my people there. Jim Jones settled about two miles south of the south side of the Chetco River. My father settled at the mouth of the Win-chuck River. Now all of these men took donation land claims with the exception of my father, who went to the head man of the compsontons and asked to build a house there. They agreed that he could stay as long as he was friendly to them.
The rest of the whites made no agreement whatsoever, but were friendly, until along in the fall of 1853 (I am not exact on this date, but very near). The hunters and nut gatherers took their canoes and went up the river for about a two weeks' stay. The old people and most of the young children who were too young to work stayed at home.
Now about this time the Indians had a little confidence in the whites and did not dream anything would happen. But before a week or ten days passed the Indians were told that the white man had burned about 40 houses and the old people in them. So the Indians called a meeting with my father and the two Tuttles and learned who and why the homes were destroyed. So my father with the two Tuttles were notified to leave there and then. Two Tuttles with Jones and my father left for Crescent City, Cal. Now I am leaving out here just what took place during the next few months, nor how it was settled the next spring.
As to the New Deal, we have not seen that prosperity corner, hence a starveout. The old Indian said: "Heap wind, no rain." So we will have to look over our ballot a little better. Goodbye.
Sunday Oregonian magazine, Portland, February 5, 1939
Last revised May 3, 2019