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.
David G. Lewis, PhD
OSU Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies & Indigenous Studies. Member of the Grand Ronde Tribe, Takelma, Chinook, Molalla, and Santiam Kalapuya. Professional consultant, educator and 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 David G. Lewis, PhD
4 thoughts on “Missing Negative Space”
Nicotiana Bigalovii Quadrivalvis is probably more accurate. thanks
Well about horticulture in the NW there are some good books you ought to grab and read if you haven’t already: “Keeping It Living” edited by Douglas Deur and Nancy Turner is great – Basically all the essays make the case that the PNW cultures occupied a place between hunter-gatherer and agriculturalists – basically horticulturalists (depending on tribe, managed crops included tobacco, wapato, springbank clover and cinquefoil/silverweed). Also “Tobacco: Sacred Smoke and Silent Killer” ed. by Joseph Winter. From that book I learned there are 4 varieties of N. bigelovii aka N. quadrivalvis, 1 or 2 of which are pure domesticates in that their seed cases won’t open on their own but need humans to do it. These varieties have nearly died out in the PNW. However, there is a tiny population on Myrtle Island in the Umpqua River, and I suspect there may be a few other survivor plants in sandy soils in the Umpqua and Rogue valleys that have gone unreported.
Then there is Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson which is about California, BUT much of the info that applies to far northern CA could well apply to many areas in western OR.
Oh and I almost forgot, there is also Indians, Fire and the Land edited by Boyd.
Basically, in all these books, they find that fire was an important management tool – invigorate growth of desired plants, keep population of bad bugs down (esp important for acorns and hazelnuts), aerating the soil thru digging, scattering seeds of desired plants, etc etc.
Love your blog! I have been researching the history of the Pacific NW Indigenous peoples too for the past two years for a thesis project, and as native Oregonian I am shocked at the sparse amount of accurate history by credentialed scholars in comparison to the actual primary source documents. Have you read Jacob’s “Kalapuya Text” that was published in 1945? It includes details on their harvesting practices for their native tobacco, as well as many other ethno-historical details in relationship to their ecological environmental practices and their cross-cultural relationship with other Indian communities and Euro-Americans that you will never find in any modern scholarly narratives.
Jacobs extensive document as well as others I found from the early fur traders/trappers dramatically changed my opinion on who the Kalapuya really were, and how and where they lived their lives and their important contribution to our early history, so much so that I have come to believe that much of what I have been taught as a life-long Oregonian and what has been published is based on scholarly created myths and half-truths for all indigenous peoples. Have you researched the primary source documents from Boyd’s book as recommended by Shichils post? You might want to read John Work’s 1834 journal that was used as a source, it is available online through JStore via the Oregon Historical Society Quarterly publication from 1923. During his journey of May-July he engages with different Kalapuya Indians all along his route to the Umpqua River Valley from Fort Vancouver, and those details are never published by scholars, since they are all suppose to be wiped out by a “Malaria” epidemic by then. However, Work describes no villages suffering from any fever epidemic during his journey, or any devastated villages, and by then he is an expert on the subject, if you read his other journals from 1830-1833. His description of Sauvie Island being basically cut in half from the dramatic flooding of the annual spring freshets so he can take a short cut by canoe from the Columbia River to the mainland on the Multnomah Channel is very enlightening too for Indian village demographics, and this happens on other occasions before his trip and up to ten years later, since it is very common.
I also caution you on the whole “collapsed society” idea of when diseases really had an impact on their different communities or when any scholar claims that only white people could be immune to P. falciparum Malaria, which in fact is not based on any medical science (just scientific racism), as it would be the exact opposite for peoples with type O blood (75-80% of Indian population today). Or if they claim Malaria without ever identifying the matching parasite, with P. falciparum consistently promoted by the anthropological community to have existed, as it is the only parasite that can produce a “killer” epidemic vector, and without the parasite identification by any scholar is it just bunk, especially since it could not exist in our highly incompatible environment of the past and even our present, as it is a climate driven tropical disease with very strict scientific parameters for P. falciparum, which are never disclosed in scholarly narratives. The very specific type of lengthy climatic patterns needed year after year (since it was to have continued for decades later as an endemic disease per scholars) would have made it impossible for the Indians to conduct their seasonal burning each September, during what all historical actors describe as their very dry and very cool night time temperatures during the summer months, which was also recorded as a much longer dry season than ours today, yes we have detailed climatic records in the primary source documents which are never shared by scholars. This type of climate pattern impacts both the production of the parasite and the mortality rate of the only species of mosquito that can carry the parasite, she has to have a long life in the wild to create an efficient vector of death. This is why the farmer’s always complained that their Indian corn would not mature, it was too cool at night (impacts the mean temperature) and too dry (not enough humidity for mosquito survival), and their climate was not like ours at all during the tail end of the Little Ice Age.
Just take a little time to compare the real science of P. falciparum malaria (even from the 70’s and 80’s) to what has been claimed and you will easily see how problematic the very outdated pseudo-scientific malaria theory is, as you need a lot more than just mosquitoes, along with the disease demographics that have been produced on all Middle and Upper Chinookan peoples too, since many of the non-existing villages from the 1830’s as claimed by scholars by a “Malaria” epidemic were not really wiped out when one reads all of the relevant primary sources. Believing in the non-scientific evidence, and the myth of shocking mortality rates, burned villages on Sauvie Island and projected faulty census numbers will only send you on the wrong path of discovery, and a complete loss of their actual history, as the survivorship in reality was much higher following what should still be considered as an unknown source of “fever” diseases that deserve a much more accurate environmental investigation, while also restoring the villages that were never destroyed. They were still in the game of making history, and lots of it!
Please keep up with your research as I know of other public historians in our local community that are outside of the dogmatic academic culture that are also uncovering important historical details that have long been suppressed by credentialed scholars, especially for Indian communities that lived in the Willamette Valley and along the Columbia River between the Cascades and St. Helens. Right now there is a grass-roots movement developing with local historians to reclaim our authentic early history that is really gaining momentum as more and more evidence is rapidly coming to the surface, and we are all starting to connect with each other and connect the dots. I think the flood-gates are about to be unleashed very soon by people who believe in the value of the historical truth and not in the game of politics or the denial of historical agency of indigenous peoples!
If you don’t have Jacob’s Kalapuya Text let me know, I can send you the link to find the PDF online. It is a lot to digest, but trust me, you will be pleasantly surprised, as will anyone who stops trusting the academic ethno-historical narratives of the past 30 years and starts engaging with the abundance of primary sources that are now much easier to access with the digital age. Also please contact me if you want to join our grass-roots movement that involves an extensive amount of sharing of unseen and suppressed primary source data on indigenous peoples, as it is going to take a village of committed historians, like yourself, to turn this ship around.
I have all of the sources you have listed. History describes the epidemics at times as malarial. We obviously do not have evidence that it is the case,and conversely we do not have evidence that it was not despite the environment of the Willamette Valley. I have read all of the primary sources and there was a supreme loss of population from 1806 to 1850 and it is clear something happened. the signs as are all there. It is also clear in numerous sources that villages did collapse down to one village from the numerous they had. since there was not much war occurring, disease is the most likely culprit. This theory is substantiated by numerous experts, of of who I am in direct communication with. If you have evidence to the contrary, please present that. thanks