Darkening and Enlightening Santiam Kalapuya Prophecy

[This is a portion of a developing essay.]

My original presentation on the subject was at the Arlington Club in Portland on January 29, 2015. I was invited to do a poetry reading by the State’s Poet Laureate Peter Sears. The event is a annual poetry reading in Honor of William Stafford.

The videotape of my presentation is on Youtube, David Lewis Expanding Voices Presentation, 1/29/15

Over the last half century, one of Mose Hudson’s accounts “A Kalapuya Prophecy” was reanalyzed by Jerold Ramsey using ethnopoetics (developed by Dell Hymes) to draw out context and emotion in the original story. The subsequent poem has been published in numerous books and magazines over the years. This is the version which attracted attention to Kalapuya oral histories. Yet Ramsey, using his artistic license added elements to the story that were not part of the original. Analysis of the Ramsey story alongside the original Jacobs translation and at least two other translations initiated with local linguists show us that the original Jacobs may in fact be more relevant to the original meaning.

Melville Jacobs Version (1945)

A shaman dreamed the earth became black like ploughed land

By John Mose Basile Hudson Jr.

(Melville Jacobs translation, Kalapuya Texts Volume 1, page 69

Long ago the people used to say that one great shaman in his dream had seen all the land black in his dream.
That is what he told the people. “this earth was all black (in my dream).”
He saw it in a dream at night. Just what was likely to be he did not know.
And then (later on) the rest of the people saw the whites plough up the ground
Now then they say, “that must have been what it was that the shaman saw long ago in his sleep.”

Reanalysis of such stories is a process of change. Ramsey may not have changed the original meaning, but he did change the details of the story, which alters the way that we envision the context of the story. Here below I offer a contemporary translation based on what I have learned at the tribe about such stories.

Working with some local linguists, Henry Zenk and Jedd Schrock, along with historian Paul McCartney, I worked on understanding how Kalapuyan is translated. I am not a linguist, but over the years I have used tribal languages to enhance my writings and being an anthropologist I have delved a bit into the science of linguistics. McCartney is in the midst of creating a Kalapuya dictionary. While Zenk and Schrock are experts on the Tualatin dialect of Kalapuyan and are presently translating Louis Kenoyer’s biography from Tualatin. I being the middle man, I engaged these scholars by asking Zenk and McCartney to separately translate the original story in the raw form. After their translation, I engaged in my own interpretation. The process became an anthropological problem, and we engaged in discussions about issues of perception within the translation of such texts. Jacobs admittedly went through a process of translation with Mose Hudson and had to make the story coherent for Kalapuya Texts. Similarly I am doing the same thing, but in a contemporary context and comparing what is written with tribal ways of knowing and doing.

David G. Lewis Version (2014)

with help from Dr. Henry Zenk, Jedd Schrock, and P. McCartney

The people long ago all said a Great Shaman had a vision.
He saw this land was black in his dream.
He told the people “I saw all the earth was black in the dream.”
Maybe he did not know what (the dream meant).
The Americans came and they ploughed the earth.
Then the people all said this is what the Shaman saw long ago in his vision.

Perhaps the most interesting discussions between the various scholars, were about the meaning of words like black. The word black may indicate a negative or nightmarish context to the original dream of the Shaman. Then the word for dream itself, in the context of this story may equate to something like a prophetic vision. Today use of the word dream does not automatically imply a supernatural phenomenon, but vision does. Finally the initial few words for “Long ago people” could easily equate with ancients or ancestors.

The word for “Plough” is linked with the vision of blackness of the land. One of the translations of the related words to blackness is “torn”. Ploughing the land is envisioned here as a process of destruction, a tearing of the land, turning it black, suggesting the nutrient rich soils of the Willamette Valley.

Then we have Jerold Ramsey’s version,

A Kalapuya Prophecy (c 1970)

In the old time, by the forks of the Santiam, a Kalapuya man lay down in an alder grove and dreamed his farthest dream
When he woke in the night he told the people, “This earth beneath us was all black, all black in my dream!”
No man could say what it meant, that dream of our greening earth. We forgot.
But then the white men came, those iron farmers, and we saw them plow up the ground, the camas meadow, the little prairies by the Santiam, and we knew we would enter their dream
Of the Earth plowed black forever.

The Ramsey version is the first I ever read. It was highly impactful and I have used it in nearly every class I have taught about the tribes of western Oregon. I talked about it providing a native perspective for all those classes. But does it? Is it a faithful portrayal of the original story or a sign of the times. It is definitely a new product, meant to interface with a new audience in ways unimagined by the original storytellers.

Image of the Original Kalapuyan text from Melville Jacobs, Kalapuya Texts.

Narrative by John B. Hudson to Melville Jacobs, in Santiam Kalapuya language, c1935.
Narrative by John B. Hudson to Melville Jacobs, in Santiam Kalapuya language, c1935.



Dedicated to Peter Sears who passed this July 20, 2017.


[In the coming months I will be developing the full narrative for publication.]

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