Andrew S. Charles, Siuslaw Informant 1931

In 1931, the coastal tribes were in the midst of a lawsuit against the federal government. The tribes of the southern coast, between the California border and North of Coos Bay, had never been paid for their lands.

The tribes signed the 1855 Coast treaty but the treaty was never ratified by Congress, regardless of Joel Palmer’s promises. Many of the tribal members stated in their affidavits that they had trusted the federal government to keep heir word and they had moved to the reservation at Yahats but that the government never ratified the treaty so they were never paid. They said they were treated poorly at Yahaats, starved, and beaten, and many sought to escape. Those who tried to leave were captured and tied to a fence and then whipped to make an example of them.  When the reservation closed in 1865, they returned to Coos Bay, Siuslaw, and the Umpqua, but never got their lands back. In fact their only help came from the Siuslaw Indians who fed them until they could reestablish themselves at Coos Bay. Some few people who had white fathers were not removed at all.

Accounts from the southern coast, from the Siuslaw Indians are rare. The 1931 court transcript contains much ethnographic and cultural information related to the three tribes, Coos Bay, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw. This account appears to have been rarely accessed in available ethnographies. One of the most surprising  accounts is this one from Andrew S. Charles, a full blooded Siuslaw Indian. Charles was old enough to have lived a short time with his people before they were removed, then had the opportunity to be around the old people who taught him the culture of his people. He was educated, having spent some 5 years at Chemawa and Haskell, and worked for some 12 years in Portland and Washington State. But,then  he settled down in his Siuslaw country. This interview is broad and sweeping, as the attorneys take lots of time questioning Charles. The interview lasted longer than most of the other interviews, for an unknown reason, perhaps he was one of the only Siuslaw informant they could find.  But his knowledge is extensive as you can read below. The transcription is abridged by me, only covering the most salient answers to a long series of questions under examination, cross examination, reexamination, and recross.

Very interesting are the many repeated statements, objections, made by the  attorney representing the Federal Government, to the answers by Charles. The attorney is very concerned that all of Charles’ knowledge, his complete testimony, was composed of information he heard from others, not his own lived experiences. The attorney calls this hearsay.

“Objection is made to the question on the ground that it calls for a reply which must be made from hearsay and as describing what would be conclusions of this witness’ informants.”

The attorney here is suggesting that the hearsay has no validity in court. This is a common tactic used against native knowledge, to discredit the information. Ironically if an anthropologists hears the same information and write it down and publishes it, its considered factual and is admissible in court. Nowadays this information is called oral history and is a regular part of most ethnographic studies. This 1931 case is later decided in favor of the United States, and so the objection to the hearsay may have been a large part of this loss.

Some of the other interesting facts from Charles, are those about the different weirs, the trading with the Kalapuyans, and the use of iron extracted from flotsam to make fish hooks. Kalapuyan trade was mentioned in the Harrington notes as well, they would bring buffalo hides to Coos bay in trade for shells. His knowledge of the archaeology of village and house and camp sites is also quite interesting. Now I want to go find those pits used to trap deer and elk.

North Bend, Oregon

November 13, 1931

Friday at 10:10 o’clock A.M.

Andrew S. Charles

I spent most of my time in the country that is owned by the Siuslaw Indians; that is, I was reared up there, or raised as they say. I am more familiar with that country than these other two places in question (Coos Bay, Lower Umpqua).

Well as much as I can remember (learning from older Indians about the manner of living, customs, and habits of the Indians) and come in contact and spent it with one of the Oldest Indians on the Coast by the name of Dan Johnson of the Umpqua Tribe. He is of the Lower Umpqua; and Thomas Johnson, another old Indian, I should judge he was about 90 or over at the time of his death. Through his conversations with Dan Johnson in reviewing their manners of hunting and fishing in the territory occupied and owned by the Siuslaw Indians. The men folks, those that were able to hunt, used to go to the mountains to hunt Elk and Deer and trap for smaller game like Mink and Marten in the timbered country up towards the east boundary line or up to the summit or water sheds of the Coast Range. Thomas Johnson he goes up there to catch eels, way up the Coast Range thirty or forty miles above tide water to the Coast Range.

If he catches enough for the winter’s supply and whatever he can spare he goes up to Triangle Lake and he goes over to do some trading with the Valley Indians [Kalapuyans]. And about hunting: the Indians go up there to hunt bear and deer and elk. That is their hunting grounds up that way. The Indians usually make their preparations for hunting by building sweat houses and rub themselves down with various herbs to take away the human scent as those days they cannot get close to the game that they are after and they did not have the firearms as they now have. They got the game with bows and arrows and pitfalls and other traps. That is how they got the game, and when they think they have enough for their winter’s supply they come back to their home on the coast and they do their trading. The people who did not go out to hunt they catch mussels, seal, salmon, and trout from the streams and traded with the Indians that came from the mountains. And in one manner the Indians get near the elk and deer: Some of them kill the deer when they got their horns on and take the skin off and put it on themselves and stalk the deer so that they can get close to the game they are after. It is a rare thing that they miss the game in that manner of hunting, and I don’t know of other things. In think that is their boundary line up there in the Coast Range.

The way that Mr. Johnson catches fish he builds a fence or weir across the river and leaves an opening of three and a half to four feet where the eels, fish, or trout go through. Then in some places where the water goes swift that makes the fish go slow and they spear them or hook them. That is all I remember on that.

Do you remember having heard them tell what the Indian method of catching flounders was?

Of course, I never heard them say, but they had canoes made those days and they gather pitch wood and build a platform on the canoe and build a fire with the pitch wood and then they go along the shallow water and spear flounder, and sometimes  they catch trout in that manner. And another method of them catching flounder is building a fence from some bank on the mud flat across the slough and when the tide goes out that leaves the fish behind shut up so they cannot get out and then they go in and pick out what fish they want and let the rest go. That is another method I know. And the last one that I know is that the boys and girls will wade along the shallow water and step on the flounder and stand on it until they get it.

Tell us what you remember from the old men about the kind of houses or habitations that the Indians in the early days occupied.

There is one kind of house that I have heard them tell about and there is some marks there yet to this very day. They dig a hole in the ground about six, seven, eight feet deep- a square hole. And they bring logs or poles and put that right over the hole that they had dug and then covered what with dirt and they used that for a roof; and then some dig a hole into the side of the hill or mountain and build kind of a cave like; and then the last one, they build houses of shakes and then some they weave tulles and use some of that for flooring and some use that for walls and some use split shakes. They put that on the roof- use that as a roof. That is all that I know in that line.

Tell us, if you can remember having heard from the old men, how they got into and out of the houses that were dug in the ground.

They leave an opening at one end when they dig a hole into the ground and they just had the weaved tulles or split boards, that is what they used for doors.

What, if anything did you learn about their means of transportation in the days prior to 1855?

By water transportation they only used canoes and by land just simply walked, about all I ever heard of.

Tell us whether the Siuslaw, Lower Umpqua, and Coos bay Indians were said to be expert in the use of the canoe.

I suppose they were in that way all right. They knew how to handle the canoe in riffles and rapids.

What if anything did you learn that they caught or procured from the ocean with the aid of the canoe?

Fish is about all that I know of on the ocean.

Do you know whether or not they captured seals?

Yes they did. I often heard Dan Johnson’s method of catching seals. It was that he put the seal skin on himself and go into the herd of seals and catches them as much as he could handle.

Tell us, If you know, what use they made of the seal.

His hide, they used that for clothing, and meat for food, and oil to cook with.

Mr. Charles, did you learn from these old people, whose names you have given, where the boundaries of the tree tribes lay?

I heard Mr. Johnson say that the north boundary ran where they used to go to hunt, the Ten Mile country, or the high mountains as he called it, that the boundary line; then there is a boundary line of the territory belonging to the Siuslaw Indians from that Ten Mile Creek to the middle of Siltcoos Lake. That belongs to the Siuslaw Indians; and from there on down to Ten Mile Lake belonged to the Lower Umpqua Indians; and from there down to Whiskey Run is owned by the Coos Bay or Coos Indians.

If you learned from Mr. Johnson or other old Indians where the east boundary of the Siuslaw country was please state it.

All I heard them say was to the high mountains of the water sheds, that is all I heard them say.

If you learned from the old Indians where the east line of the Coos Country was please state it.

That part I have not heard them say much about. I didn’t hear them say where the east boundary of the Coos Bay country was, only tell me about the Northern countries- the Siuslaw.

Tell us what you learned from them about the east boundary of the Lower Umpqua country.

They used about the same term- to the high mountains or the ridge.

Do you know from what you learned from the older Indians whether or not the Siuslaw Indians lived in villages?

Yes they did. They had about five or six villages and then each village had a head man, or chief, as they called it and when any trouble arises it is usually settled between the head men or chiefs of the tribes. He lived about a half or three quarters of a mile, where the city of Florence now stands, up the river on the north bank. His name was Chief John.

What if anything, do you remember about the villages of the Lower Umpqua Indians?

They have not said anything about that part of it in my presence.

Tell us whether they remain to this day evidences of where the villages of the Siuslaw Indians were located.

Yes, there are. I know where there are two or three where the villages were. There remains holes where the houses were built, and you can see shells and bones a few feet under the ground right where the villages used to stand.

Tell us whether in talking to the old men of the tribes you learned anything about trading between the Siuslaw, Lower Umpqua, and Coos tribes with the other tribes of Indians.

No I have not heard them say. I only heard from Thomas Johnson he trades his catches with the Valley Indians toward the Triangle Lake country and the hill by the same name. They traded with the Valley Indians. That is all I know about it, that I heard about it.

Mr. Charles, are there evidences existing today of camping places where the Siuslaw Indians hunted and fished around or near the eastern boundary?

Yes, there are. Several years ago we were in the habit of going hunting back over the hills toward the Triangle Lake country and through the Chickahominy countries and hunting through those countries for deer and we ran across places where the Indians years ago hunted, saw where they left their traces of bones, where the fires were, then other evidences of fishing right this very day you can see the fence built across the river by one Tom Johnson where he used to catch his fish and eels, and toward the east near the boundary lines, and I think there are those evidences still to be seen to this very day as those Indians were in the habit of hunting and fishing in their own territory. That is all I know about that.

In your conversation with the older Indians did you learn whether or not the Siuslaw Indians in the early days, say prior to 1855, before the white man came into their territory, lived comfortably and happily on what was produced from their own country?

From what I hear them say they were happy; seemed like they had plenty in those days of the kind they were used to get before they learned the ways of the white man’s living. The children and young folks enjoyed themselves. They said that in the evening when they came together and played that you can feel the ground shake so many of them having a good time; and seem like they had a shinny game and dances and had a good time those days.

From what you learned from the old Indians, how often did they go on their hunts to the mountains?

Well, they said whenever the deer got fat in the summertime, about once a year, summer or fall,  that is the time they got in their prime.

You have mentioned what there were five of six villages. How close to the Pacific Ocean were those villages?

That I don’t know but I can tell you where they were. There was one at North Fork. North Fork of the Siuslaw River. There was another up there just about half or three quarters of a mile at Munsel Creek.

Were not all of these villages within short distance of the Ocean?

Yes, you might call it that because you can hear the ocean roaring every day.

Who were the Valley Indians?

The Indians what inhabit the Willamette Valley, mostly Kallapooia in the upper Willamette valley.

By what means could you tell that they had been the camping places of the Siuslaw Indians?

Well, we went into the places that were never visited by the whites.

How do you know that?

Because it is a hard place for whites to get into. They are not familiar with the country. In fact I don’t think the whites ever go into those places to hunt.

I ask you again how you were enabled to identify these camping places of the Siuslaw Indians?

Well at Chickahominy Hill you can see the holes that are left where the pitfalls were made for the big game, and you can see the old fire remains there and you can see the bones there under the ground where you scrape the ground away; that is what we found at Chickahominy Hill, and then toward the Triangle Lake we find the same thing- the holes in the ground, the remains of the pitfalls, and another one at Cummins Camp you can see a lot of remains of pitfalls and the fire places where the fires were, the ashes and burned rocks.

You stated in your testimony that the Valley Indians came over to Triangle Lake to trade and that you found the camping places near Triangle Lake. Can you now positively say that those were not the camping places of the Valley Indians?

I don’t remember that I said that the Valley Indians came over to trade, by Mr. Johnson went over to trade with the Valley Indians.

You mentioned a fence or weir that you had found which you said had been built by Tom Johnson. How do you know that Tom Johnson built that fence?

I saw him myself. I saw him repairing it.

During your recollection, have there been eels running in these streams?

They are there right to this very day but no one catches them.

Have you seen salmon caught by the Indians or by white men in your recollection?

I have seen both the Indians and the White men spear them, but those old people are gone now.

During your recollection, have there not been clams, crabs, mussels, and other fishes along the shore and in the sea?

There is quite a bit of them in my days that I remember.

When you were a boy, do you remember whether or not the Indians gathered clams, mussels, and crabs?

Yes they did, I think. I saw them do it. Yes, I saw them catch the silver smelts. They build dip nets so big that you could not reach the top with your head and then the net is woven fine so that the smelts could not get through. Then they held it right in the surf and dip out the smelts.

Mr. Charles, I failed to ask you in the direct examination what you learned from the old Indians about the native industries of Siuslaw, Lower Umpqua, and Coos bay Indians in the early days, such as basket making, net making, trap making, etc. You may tell us, if you know, anything about that, whether the information was gained from the old people.

The only industry I heard from them was that they gathered hazel sprouts in the spring when the sap runs and they peel it and dry the sprouts in the sun and weave them into baskets in various shapes and for the purpose that they wanted it. For the baskets that they are able to carry water in they take spruce roots, take that and split them up and weave them tight so that it makes it water tight; and some would tan hides, deer, elk, and seal skins; they are made into clothing, and some would weave tulles and weave into matting. That is all I heard about it that line.

Did you learn from the older Indians who made the nets and fish traps that were used in the early days for catching fish?

In the early days I do not think they had nets. They just only had fences or weirs, whatever you may call it, and they made spears and hooks.

How were the hooks made?

Just some simple bending of the iron in hook style and then they put that on a pole and hook the salmon in some deep water. They stand on the bank and come build kind of brush houses over the water and sit there and as the salmon go by they spear them. That is one way of catching them. That is all I know.

Tell us whether or not you learned that the clothing for the women was made by the Siuslaw Indians, and if so how?

All that I heard them say was that it was made from tanned hides of elk, deer, or seals.

If you learned from the Indians what was their method of heating water was, please narrate that to us.

They used this water tight basket that is made of roots. They heat rocks to get them red hot and put that into the basket that contained the water and that would heat the water.

Did you learn from these old Indians where they got the iron that they made into hooks?

Found it on the beach from ship wrecks.

Wrecks of white men’s ships, you mean?


Coos (or Kowes) Bay, Lower Umpqua (or Kalawatset), and Siuslaw Indian Tribes Vs. The United States of America, No. K-345,  Testimony Taken on Behalf of Claimants, November 1oth to 13th 1931: pp 105-121


4 thoughts on “Andrew S. Charles, Siuslaw Informant 1931

  1. Frank Drew said Chickahominy Hill was SE of Triangle Lake. Driving thru Walton on 126 I have seen a Chickahominy Creek. I wish I knew where the hill was!!

    Andy Charles was Jim Buchanan’s nephew. His mother was his sister (I don’t know her name sadly) and his dad was Chetco (alas I do not know his name either). After Yachats was closed, he moved with his uncle and I guess mom to the Siuslaw area. Jim mostly knew the Hanis language but some SIuslaw-Umpqua (his wife, Eliza, was Lower Umpqua and related some how to Spencer Scott).

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