Been thinking about and talking about the collapse of native societies in the northwest in the past few years. Also been thinking about the lack of definition in many theories of agriculturalists and complex hunter gatherers. I think I have a theory that connects these issues. The collapse of the societies due to epidemics caused some effects on the societies. How they are described by early explorers pre-1830s is different than 1840s and later. I think we can now say that individual nations collapsed inward and reorganized under surviving chiefs and headmen in relatively few villages. that people from many villages combined into one village in most cases. My recent exploration of the Skilloot has shown that they collapsed down to Cooniak and and probably incorporated the Clatskanie people as well, including their territory. We can establish this pretty well in the record. Ok so where it gets interesting is when comparing Douglas’s journey through the Willamette Valley as he is in the midst or just immediately after the societal collapse. Frankly he does not meet many natives in his journals. What is missing is interesting, the negative space if you will. But he does encounter a village at the Willamette Falls and steals some tobacco seeds. Nicotiana Bigalovii Multivaris I believe. We also know how much the native peoples of the region depended on vegetable matter for their diets. I would suggest that vegetables were more than 50% probably in the 75% range some times of the year. I think the Kalapuyas were heavily vegetable and starch eaters. So where is the evidence of all of their work in harvesting vegetables? I think its all around us, the whole environment is full of evidence, but I think we have never looked for it, or anthropologists have not, assuming that we were simply complex hunter gatherers. In a sense they have been biased by the scholarship to believe this and have not looked for the alternatives. I think that many of the human altered plants died out immediately after the collapse of many native societies, as there was no one to keep the domesticated plants in their regular cycles. The hint of this is in the native tobacco. Where is it? we cannot find Multivaris growing in the wild in western Oregon. There are other species, that are likely introduced but what about the native. Recently the tribe acquired some seeds of multivaris, they supposedly originate from Britain, probably descendants of the Douglas theft of seeds at Willamette Falls. This still needs to be proven but we are cultivating the plants now. I have two in my garden. But what if this did not just happen with Tobacco but other plants? Plants chosen by the tribes for food or weaving and not the wilder varieties have survived and perhaps reverted to their wild and and natural forms. De-evolved if you will. Perhaps a case of this can be made of camas, wapato or other well harvested plants. anyway my thought for the day.
Published by Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD
PhD Anthropology (UO 2009) and Native history researcher. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya ancestry. Owner of Ethnohistory Research LCC, professional consultant and project researcher. I teach at local universities and colleges and take contracts with tribes, local governments and nonprofits. I have experience in archival organization, museum development, exhibit curation, traditional cultural property nomination, tribal ethnohistoric research, tribal maps, traditional ecological knowledge, and presentations to large and small gatherings. Contact me for consultation about any of these projects. View all posts by Ethnohistory Research, LLC | David G. Lewis, PhD