General History Oral History Oregon Coast Oregon indians Siletz Reservation

Places that Floated, When the World Burned, & Dry-Land-Stranded Whales

Our tribal lands have seen innumerable natural disasters over the millennium.  Native people tried to interpret what was happening and preserved the history of the events in our oral histories. In the ethnographic era, (1870s-1940s) many of these stories were written down and preserved before, it was feared that, all languages and cultural traditions were going to be lost. John Peabody Harrington, an ethnographer, collected many stories from peoples in Oregon and he spent a good amount of time on the southwest Oregon coast. His records for the Coos Bay area are substantial.

Broadly, there is a growing interest at interpreting Native Oral history as true history. Within these stories are preserved actual events. Geologists and Anthropologists are learning to interpret the stories and researching ways to track the stories to the actual events in the past. Certain stories, like volcanic eruptions are easy to look for geologically, and there is research now into documenting tsunami’s on the coast through cores of stratified sand layers. The  firestorm below may be tracked through tree cores. Large whale bones may be found in the Coast Range archaeologically, unless they are already known.

The follow story from the Hanis (Coos) is a sequence that is quite interesting for the perspectives on the flood, a likely tsunami, and a likely forest firestorm, as well as finding of large whale bones in the coast range. There are many stories of Tsunami events on the northwest coast but they are as yet not well studied. One good study is the dissertation of Robert Losey from University of Oregon. (Losey, Robert Justin. “Communities and Catastrophe: Tillamook Response to the A.D. 1700 Earthquake and Tsunami, Northern Oregon Coast.” Ph.D. diss., University of Oregon, 2002.) These stories below are entertaining and imaginative, and they preserved the events from long ago.

 

Lot (Lottie Evanoff)

My father used to tell about it: The only place that floated when the flood came was Glasgo, and one place way over at Crescent City floated too, Lucy Dan told me, mentioning the plcn. (placename), saying her m (mother) used to tell her.

(This is likely the flood story from the Tolowa Deeni of the Tolowa escaping to the top of Mt En-mi, Mt. Emily in the Coast Range of SW Oregon. In the story it was Elk Valley that floated. See Loren Bommelyn’s publications)

It rained fire rain for 5 days, you cdnt (couldn’t) run on the road wd (would) slip and wash away, you had to run only on the grass. They told…

When you run in the woods in that time person fleeing the flood just got wild & stayed in the wood. Hx’mxtl’= it floated. Glasg. floated, never got wet & bear & deer & all Inds. congregated there.

And when the world burned, also the fire did not touch Glasgo – when logging there, my father said, they found age-old spruces which had very hard old wood.

Lucy Smith used to tel me there was one place down Crescent City way where all the animals come together at the time of the flood & saved themselves. I retorted that that was the way they told the story here, only Glasgo floated, that was the only place that was saved, elsewhere if the people had no canoe, they drowned.

Lot (Lottie Evanoff)

Lots of whales got stranded on the land in the flood too, when a person hunts in the mts (mountains) sometimes he slips on a mt. wet place, that is because there is a whale submerged there, they got stranded & became buried & rotted there & hunters slip on them.

And sometimes a mt-stranded whale has tree growing on him & swam to sea again & the other whales attack this dry-land-whale & kill him. Such a dry-land whale when stranded later had a mud-color.

 

(Harrington Microfilm roll 23, section 81, NAA Online set)

 

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5 comments

  1. “sometimes a mt-stranded whale has tree growing on him & swam to sea again” Couldn’t that be a description of a sailing ship, seen from shore?

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      1. It is. I gotta compile my notes…I saw a note somewhere in Jacobs I think about some Alsea women digging camas in the hills, finding one of these stuck whales and running away.

        For ‘floating’ places, it changes – of course – on who is telling the story. There are different versions. Lottie’s is that the big hill at Kdæt, Glasgow, floated. Jim Buchanan told a different version of the flood story (it is published in Frachtenberg’s “Coos Texts”) and in his it is a hill at Kentucky (Qalatl) that floated. Of course as the crow flies these two places are only 2-3 miles apart (I grew up at Qalatl Slough & went to elementary school at the old Glasgow school, closed long ago sadly). So…I kinda have connections to both floaty places. How funny!!

        Also somewhere in Harrington’s notes there is a Coquelle Thompson flood story. Now Thompson also worked w/ Elizabeth Jacobs and those stories were edited and compiled by Seaburg in “Pitch Woman and Other Stories” & I do not recall offhand if the flood story is there. But there is a version he told to Harrington. I recall a scene offhand that stuck with me as i found it a bit of delightful characterization and funny. Two mountains are talking about a flood coming. They come of as unsurprised, even rather bored. My takeaway was, mountains are OLD and they have seen it all before. They don’t get excited about a lil’ ol’ event like a flood. I liked the mental image of two ancients, calmly shrugging off a flood.

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