The Takelma Indians of Southwestern Oregon
First Page through Section II
This Page, Sections III through IV
Sections V through VI
Sections VII through X
SECTION III: LANGUAGE
The American Bureau of Ethnology listed 58 linguistic families of Indians, North of Mexico. All known Indians fall into one or another of these parent groups.
38. Sastean (Shastan)
Of these, more than 1/3 were represented in California and Oregon, the most wide diversification of Indian families of any other area. Of each of these linguistic families, there were from 1, to almost 70 sub-tribes, each speaking its peculiar dialect of the root language.
Of the Takelman, the root language was spoken except that in later years the Upland Takelma intermarried with Shastan peoples and adopted some of their terms which served to alter their native tongue into a second
Takelma dialect. No other tribes spoke with Takelman dialect, and there were no other sub-tribe branches.
Sapir, from whom a great store of linguistic material comes, described his informant, Mrs. Frances Johnson, as being "exceptionally intelligent and good-humored as an informant, without which qualities the study would have been far more imperfect." Mrs. Johnson did not speak English very well, but other Takelma informants helped with these words, both in English, and in the then-common Chinook jargon.
A glossary of words and phrases follows, these being but a brief representation from the work of Sapir which is quite comprehensive. These are given as they show peculiar ways of life of the Takelma, and it is also hoped the some of the nouns, and place names, which seem to be particularly musical, may become familiar to modern residents of the area, and they may find their usage in naming areas, ranches, streets, businesses, and the like.
The striking features of the Takelma language are syllabic pitch-accent and nominal as well as pronominal incorporation of the object and the instrument. The noun object is not, at first sight, as evidently incorporated as the droguois (SP). In its general phonetic makeup it offers a great contrast to the harsh system of the neighboring Athapascan and Coos tribes, and is more like the harmonious phonetics of northern California.
An interesting insight into the history of these people has come about through the dogs which they kept as pets, much as dogs are kept today.
Based on some of the Takelma legends in which dogs played an important part, some studies were made in this direction. J. C. Fremont has reported on these dogs, and described them to closely resemble wolves. Drion and Kroeber called attention in their work [American Anthropologist, 1903, p. 13, note 1.] to the similarity of the word
Dog in about ten Californian linguistic stocks otherwise quite unrelated. The Takelma word for "dog" is ts!ixi, and this is closely related to that of the other groups. The Yurok tsic, the Chimariko sitcela, and Nehuatl chichi, are quite similar to the Takelma word, and particularly when it seems probable that tx!isi goes back to an earlier ts!itchi (the sound tc does not occur in Takelma but always develops into x). These matters point to the possibility that the dog was introduced to the west from elsewhere, or else, the practise of training a wild dog was learned and passed along from one tribe, and area, to another, the name passed with it.
SECTION IV: FOOD, FISHING, HUNTING
The staple food of the Takelma was the acorn (yana) and several varieties were available, the "black acorn" (yana yahals) a favorite. The first acorns were available in the spring, and they were gathered by the women who prepared them for eating and for storage. An impression was made in the ground to hold the p'!es, a flat rock on which the acorns were pounded. Children shelled them by cracking them on a smaller rock, and when a number were thus shelled, the women pounded and ground them on the p!es with a round, long stone held in the hand for this purpose and which was called, by them, s'elek'. When these stones are found at a campsite, they range in length from 6 - 8 inches by up to 2 or 3 feet long. Used with this, for finer grinding, and held much like a rolling pin was a shorter t'elma, and these often show a flattening along their length due
to much usage and consequent wearing away upon the flatter stone.
A kind of basket-hopper was woven to closely fit the outside edges of the stone, to prevent the acorn meal from spilling off the p!es. This hopper was known as a boan.
In the degas, a shallow circular basket-pan, the meal was sifted, then it was placed on carefully washed sand, and boiling water poured over it, removing the bitter taste (from tannic acid of the acorn.) Such treatment served to turn the meal into a kind of dough, and it was take up carefully, the sand brushed away, and boiled in a basket-bucket (K!elmeheli') made for this purpose, and heated by placing hot stones in the basket. When this dough was cooked into a kind of mush, it was eaten, or made into "acorn cakes" patted out between the hands, and dried to be stored for winter use. The women were not permitted to eat of this acorn food until the men, led by a shaman,
had performed a formulaic ceremony, and themselves eaten. To fail this meant the oak trees might never produce again, for it would surely bring the wrath of Talsunne upon them, and that giantess would not go about and scatter "her flesh" from her big basket which, falling on oak trees, caused acorns to grow.
Another important vegetable food was the camass root, dip. This was dug with a stick or a suitable digging stone called t'gapxrut, or "horned digging stick." This was neatly fitted at the upper end into a deer horn to serve as a handle, or, in the case of a rock, was attached to a hardwood handle with thongs and glue. [many such digging stones are found at village sites. They are about 8-10 inches long, straight, and with a curved point at one end.] Such diggers were pushed into the ground alongside the camass, and the curved end used to loosen the bulb for easy removal. Only the root was eaten, and when these were peeled and cleaned, they were prepared in a fire pit as follows:
Temporary pits were simply dug holes, but more permanent pits have been recently found at sites along the upper Rogue River. In the permanent pit, the hole was dug squarish, with straight sides, and about 3 feet deep. Stones were fitted together for lining the bottom and all sides, and these were often secured with native blue marl (clay) which hardened on usage. In the pit a fire was made and kept going until the lining stones were quite hot, then the fire and as many ashes as possible were lifted out.
With layers of alder bark of mosses, the roots were placed in the pit until it was filled, and the top was well covered over with a good layer of bark and moss, and above that a layer of dirt or sand was placed, and a fire was kept going there for a specific time, until the camass was considered sufficiently cooked, usually a whole day and night. When roasted, this was called hix, and the roots were eaten, or they would sometimes be mashed into a dough and made into a large pancake (xlepx) which could be dried and stored for winter use. Strings of uncooked camass roots were sometimes made by the children (belp') and used as playthings.
Pine nuts (t'gal) and Tanzanian berries (loxom) were gathered and pounded and mixed into a mush which kept well, also, as a winter food. Mrs. Johnson told Sapir of eating this much, and a peculiar implement that was made for the purpose when the bushy tail of a squirrel was tied, at the stub end, and wrapped around with sinew to form a "handle," sometimes also attached to a long stick with which the Indian could reach into the common mush pot from his seating place around the fire-hole. This tail was brushed through the mush and all placed in the mouth where the mush was removed
and the squirrel-tail handle brushed into the mush again.
Many seeds were used as food. The sunflower grew wild in some sections, and its seeds were shelled and used. For storage, these seeds (lamx) were beaten with a special stick (mot!op) into a basket-funnel and into a deerskin pouch (xi) made for this purpose. When the sunflower was young and tender the stalks were sometimes eaten.
The yellow-flowered tarweed (Koex) was first burned to remove the pitchy substance from stalks and seed pod, and the seeds were then gathered, further parched, then ground for usage.
The only plant cultivated before the coming of white man was tobacco (o'p' which was planted by the men on ground from which other plants had been removed by burning. Smoking was common and had a semi-religious character, the whiff of smoke being symbolic of good fortune and long life. Pipes were made of wood and stone,
and recently clay pipes are being found in this area. Pipes were most often only a few inches long, straight, and with a reed stem attached, but a few are known to have been a foot or more long. The usual custom, of passing the pipe around in a group, also prevailed here.
Rivers provided the important animal foods of trout (yuxgan), salmon-trout (t!ek'ui), steelhead salmon (;yols), silver-sided salmon (a'lk'), Chinook salmon (domxau), crawfish (libis) which was thought to be a descendant of dragonfly - a distant 'cousin', fresh water mussels (t!aK') and many others. The maplrey and common 'bullhead' fish were also used.
Fishing was done in a number of ways. Lines were sometimes twisted from a native grass (K'eda) with bone hooks attached and weighted with sinker stones. In some cases nets were woven (lan) and cast from canoes, or weighted at one side with sinker stones and cast from the shores. Spearing was
accomplished with a pole spear (mal) to the end of which was attached one, two, or three barbed and sharpened bones.
Probably the most efficient manner of taking fish was that of simply wading into the stream, during a run, and clubbing these migrant fish in great numbers. Children tossed these to the banks where the old men, and women, collected them and processed them. In this way, an abundance of food could be taken easily and in a short time, and this accounts for the location of villages near the confluence of streams where the migrant fish would congest the smaller stream during runs. While permanent village sites were at a distance from such forks in the rivers to provide safety during high-water season, most of the processing was done on the spot, and a variety of tools abound to this day on such locations where, if the village was far, camps were
made during the length of the run. Many fine salmon clubs have been found, of jasper as well as steatite (SP), their handle-ends quite smooth from usage, and the clubbing end somewhat widened, as a canoe-paddle.
After the skin of the salmon was removed (and saved for a variety of uses), the head and tail was cut off, the fish gutted, then the body split lengthwise along the spine which was removed in another slice. These pieces were impaled on a stick which was put into the ground near the fire, and roasted until quite dry, for storage. Another way of preserving fish was by cutting the meat into strips and hanging over a brush frame which was erected over a fire to cause the meat to absorb as much smoke as possible as it dried. Fish were sometimes stored in baskets in a chunk form, and they were sometimes pounded and ground into a powder, mixed with manzanita berries, sugar-pine nuts, and much animal fat, shaped into "fish balls" and stored.
Deer were often hunted by groups of men with the help of dogs. A deer fence was constructed with a small gate opening, above which was strung a bunch of dried shoulder-blade bones and the like, having a rope attached and ed away to a point where a few of the men waited.
Wings fanned out fro this gate opening, serving to guide the deer to the gate. Since before daybreak, the hunters with their dogs had been beating brush and driving deer toward the pen, shouting "Wa Wa Wa!" a chant with religious or superstitious meanings. After enough deer had been driven in, the string of bones was lowered and shaken violently by the waiting men, frightening the deer and forcing them to stampede to the read of the pen where snares caught and held them securely. Thus entangled they were easily clubbed and dressed out on the spot. Such deer fences were usually erected in the vicinity of creeks or saltmarshes, and sometimes as many as a hundred of such deer traps were erected, side
by side, in one area. Not infrequently mountain forests were set afire and controlled burning in a section was practised to facilitate driving out of the deer. This practise also renewed the grasses in these areas, and attracted even more deer to the area to feed upon new tender growth springing up in the old burns.
The fat of the deer (yamx) was choice, often eaten raw, and sometimes uses as a plaything by the children, and hard dough-like cakes of fat were stored away for winter use.
Elk, common in southwestern Oregon in past times, was also taken for food.
Grasshoppers were picked from a weedy field which was set afire to trap and partially cook them. The white larvae of the yellowjacket (del) was gathered after the yellowjackets had been smoked out of their hole.
Dried salmon was never salted, but salt was used in drying all other meats, obtained from a salt marsh at Leaf Creek (YuK'yaK'wa).
In the spring when supplies were low, the Takelma often used the inner bark from non-resinous trees for food. This was removed in sheets, pounded while yet damp, and eaten without cooking. Inner bark served other purposes besides food, being used in making of summer clothing, in winding twine, and the like.
Kouse was reported as a Takelma food and it is known to have been abundant in the coast area so probably grew here also. Lewis and Clarke (sic), in 1804-06, used the form "cous" and they report using this for food and finding it agreeable. Thornton speaks of "the cowish or biscuit root" as Indian food ["Oregon and California," vol. 8, p. 355, 1849.], but the commoner name "Kouse" comes from the Nez Perce and closely related Shohaptian (SP) stocks, who used it as food.
Marsbee ["Some Indian Foods," World Book, 1881.] outlined a number of foods used by northwestern tribes"
"Clover enters largely into their list of foods. It is sometimes boiled
and sometimes eaten raw. The root of the pond lily (Wocus) forms an important item of their diet. It is found in the water four or five feet deep and the women dive for it or bring it up with their toes in large quantities one or two feet long. As muskrats also gather these roots and store them in quantity, the Indians contrive to find a storehouse of the rats and steal away their supply. The seeds are also used either ground and made into cakes or parboiled and eaten like popcorn.
The root of some ferns has a pungency which renders it disagreeable to the taste when raw, but when it is roasted it has a taste similar to that of wheat dough. The root of the cat-tail flag, and the new young shoots, make food items, the roasted root making a favorite dish whether served plain, boiled later, or pounded and made into cakes. Before starting on a journey they usually procured a quantity of this root to chew on as a preventative to thirst.
So it was that there was an abundance of food in the Takelma area, and the comparative ease with which it could be obtained seems to have had a great influence on the people. Basic requirements met, they were peaceful and contended, and what disputes arose came about because of invasions into their happy land of plenty, which they were willing to fight to retain. If there was inner-tribal strife (and Mrs. Johnson reported none) it would have been over fishing grounds.
No bird, nor cat-like animal, nor bear was eaten, or killed, unless in case of emergency to self defence. These, and Coyote, Wolf and numerous other animals, were considered "brother" or "cousin" or "spirit-guide" to individuals who chose their da-uya.
There are approximately 200 wild plants in Oregon which are suitable for use, and were used by the Takelma. A few of these are listed:
Iapa (or Yampa)
trillium roots (as medicine)
valerian (for tea)
purslane (for greens)
Oregon grape berries
fiddleneck fern shoots (greens)
sugar-pine nuts, gum
wild poppy (a little for toothache, on tooth)
black nightshade (greens, wine, diuretic)
sweet colt's foot (burn, ashes as salt substitute)
hellebore (boil-poisonous-as insecticide)
dogwood (root, boiled, used as quinine)
Douglas fir (tea from needles)
squaw grass (soap)
cat-tail pollen (sweet)