Frog is in the Moon: Takelma Stories

Stories from the Takelma people are great information about how people thought about their world. This is important to me because I have direct ancestry with Takelma and Cow Creek Umpqua peoples. I have spent a good number of years looking at the Kalapuya tribes and found out so much more than was ever written about by learning their stories and linking them with the ethnographic narratives. This has helped me understand better what my great grandparents thought about their world and the lands they grew up in.

Other great grandparents came from southern Oregon and had a different perception of their world, with unique words and concepts of what they would do with their lives when living in their land in the high lands of southern Oregon. A comparison of the lifeways of the Kalapuyans and Takelmans seems appropriate as they were both inland peoples, peoples of prairies and fishing and hunting and digging roots and yet the high altitudes of the Siskiyous and the Rogue River valley has different meanings. The Takelmas seemed to have more place names for the mountains because their world was surrounded by mountains and high hills. This is true for the Kalapuyans but they also had a significant lowland lifeways with ready access to trade systems on the Columbia that the Takelmans did not have. Then also we have to consider that the Kalapuyans were more heavily colonized earlier than the Rogue River peoples who lived in remote valleys which were low trafficked. There was no ready unblocked river into the interior of southwestern Oregon like the Columbia, and so boat traffic was not possible. Most people traveled by walking or later using horses.

This is a non-linguistic study and I will transcribe the words as best I can. These short stories are in the J.P. Harrington microfilm collection Reel 28 and page numbers are in parentheses. The stories that are abbreviated in Harrington’s notes where the notes that are dictated in a phonograph, the audio recordings have never been found, so the notes are the only record we have of the story, unless it is told in a neighboring tribe.

Molly Orton- Latgawa (Upper Takelma) Informant; Frances Johnson- Takelma Informant; both informants are from Siletz and joined Harrington on a trip to southern Oregon and elicited names and stories while on the road in 1933. I try as best as possible to be non-political in these narratives and not favor one contemporary reservation over the other. It is a fact that there were peoples of S.W. Oregon at both reservations, Siletz and Grand Ronde, and so both reservations collectively have heritage connections to the region and own a piece of the story. This does not mean that other reservations today may not have a connection through removal or intermarriage. 

Big Horned Owl

Thkwala’, big horned owl. He stole a baby and put it in Kwenphunkh (Table Rock), on top of Table Rock. He cried: oh, come after me mama, come after me papa. They hired beaver to get the baby. She dictates story into phono. Lo-m, Cedar (189) Owls are powerful predators and yes can carry away babies. Some tribes associate the owl with death, and avoid such myth figures, but this is not the case with all tribes. Hiring beaver seems to be a theme among the Takelmans.

Robbing Pocket Gopher

Thi’s, pocket gopher. Sometimes they rob a gopher’s nest, & get a whole panful of camass, & all sorts of food, & clean. (200) An interesting cultural practice that adds to our knowledge of the tribes TEK, taking advantage of gopher holes to find root crops.

Hog eats camass

Kusu, hog. First time people were telling one another: some kind of animals are g(oing) to come & eat up all the camass, just like shotgun his nose. (228) The act of introducing pigs and hogs into settlements caused the decline of root crops due to their rooting activities. This caused a marked decrease in food for the tribes.

Why Otter’s fur is Black

Hulu-n, ocean person. Just like a woman, lives in Ocean. Tells myth. Whose arrow is this grandma? Mine. Whose boat is this grandma? Mine. But she told story- It was her son-in-law’s. She dictates myth into phono. Hutu-n, Ocean. Wa-y we-y, girl. She belongs to the ocean now acc(ording) to the story. She was otter’s wife. Otter & hulu-n way wey had 2 sons. They killed otter. The 2 girls got pitch. They hung up the otter’s heart & burnt pitch under his heart, & that is why otter’s fur is black. The Ocean people were rich in the stories, everything rich.  (237) Perhaps otter fur here represents a rich lifestyle, a highly prized fur used by women, and danced by natives in the region to show their wealth. Pitch for me remains an unknown as to symbolism.

Boy turned into a Cedar

Frances: a boy turned into a cedar tree. A boy cried for more grub all the time & they put him in a sack & put him outdoors. ? put him on top of Table Rock. They hired beaver, etc., to get him. Break Rock wd (would) kill the boy. At last boy turned to cedar (lo-m) (242) Seems here to be a morality story, like do not ask for too much.

Frog in the Moon

Inf. knows nothing of grizzly bear or man in moon but heard that there is a frog in the moon. N. (unknown?) if it is moon’s wife- never heard. (246) Interesting story. Really want to find more.

Long White Cloud and Milky Way

Mrs. Evelyn Baker: when one sees a long horizontal strip of white cloud in the west, they say it is dead people’s trail, that it is a sign that someone is g(oing) to die. Mrs. Baker never heard that milky way is road of the dead. (249) I have heard this story elsewhere that the Milky Way is the trail of the dead. Seems to me that the milky way was present in all human cultures and would have been a powerful symbol to all humans. 

Flood and Molly Orton’s homeland

Says they landed after flood in mt. next to ‘rt [mountain name]. Jargon Khinim= Tak. ‘ey= canoe. Make ‘ey of sugarpine tree. But Inds (Indians) said there was a flood & next time was g(oing) to be a fire, but fire never come yet. The flood landing Mt. has a name – but forgets. It is the next Mt. to ‘rt. tammuhuletha’, plcn (placename) where the med. (medicine) rock is. Father said if listen to bedtime Ind. Stories, will get long ears. Hoksey [Hoxie] Simmon’s grfather, half Applegate, told long Ind. Stories.- Mrs. Spencer is same tribe & may know. Molly Orton at Siletz is from Ashland & Jacksonville or somewhere. She is not Shasta, inf. says indignantly- she talks my (Tak.) language. (266) Molly here seems to be answering the commonly held belief that Ashland was only the land of the Shasta, a common folk fact in the valley.

Deerhide basket being

Molly [Orton] ‘usi Tu-na-tura, a human shaped being that has a big light about his head & walks in the night time. Seems to say the etym. is deerhide basket that walks. (289) This sounds scary. There are lots of such stories among the tribes.

Coming of the white men

Somebody saw a big smoke coming in the salt water. All the Inds. cried, were g(oing) to die, we’re g(oing) to die. The boat came here & whites made a town there (308) This is likely the story of Port Orford, both there and the early port town at Chetco were forced on the tribes with big battles and much death. It was common knowledge that stories were passed between tribes of the new things encountered. Indian peoples in far-away lands then heard of the coming of white men well before the actual encounters. Trade between peoples involved much more than simply goods, stories and information was also part of the trade meeting.


Yap’atipukskwat, first people. Given when I try to get name of Kar. ‘ikxare-yaw. Last word ev. means first, for I got her to say that Jacksonville is Thawn Tipukskwat, the 1st town here (309) Note that Thawn is the jargon word for Town. Jacksonville became the epicenter of the fight against native peoples in the area and is still vilified as such today.

Nose babys

Molly: Once a man had a swelled nose & Coyote stept (stepped) up to him & squeezed the man’s nose & a baby fell from his nose. Coy. said: it does not look well for a man to have a nose baby. From now on women will have babies. Coy. took that baby & threw it away (killed it). (310) How women came to have babies, of course it was up to Coyote.

Table Rock is People

Molly [Orton] Table R(ock) dialect yap’ath, man; but Frances [Johnson] Yap’a. person. Molly n. how to say person in her own dialect. Old People told her the Inds. (Indians) Here just grew here, never came from anywhere, and knew nothing of whites were g(oing) to come. We just came here. Old People kept dying off & each got to be owners of Lathkawkh, Table Rock, etc. (311) Stories of people turning into stone, prominent stones recognized as such, is a common story among tribes on the Oregon coast and its interesting to find a similar story inland.

Sealion burns Boats

Knows Sealion, used to be bad & burn boats of Salchuck Inds. [Chinuk wawa name for Indians who live at the Ocean, Saltchuck is Ocean] over, for he does not want anybody around his place. N. Tak. [Northern Takelma] name, Salchuck Inds. ate them. Head like a person, whiskers, smart, mean. Knows Eng. [English] Sealion. (313) Interesting sealion story, I want to hear more.

Woodrat’s Kitchen

Molly thwelk, woodrat. Comments it sounds almost like twelve. Tells of digging one out at Table Rock & finding his kitchen, camass & all. (318) Similar to gopher, Indians raided their burrows for roots.

Bat wants to Shoot somebody

P’i-watskh, bat. He wants to shoot your eye (gest. of aiming arrow all directions). He said in story times, I can shoot anybody in the eye. He dodges so you can’t hit him. Sometimes he flies against house or door- maybe he wants to shoot somebody. (323) An interesting account, perhaps a warning to not go out at night.

Mole Holds Up the Sky

Molly Kh’ukhl’I, mole. Coy(ote) told mole to hold, mole to hold the sky up. Mole held it a little time & his hands got crooked, & are all the time that way. Sharp nose, crooked hand, small eyes, like beads. (327) Mole is noted as having hands, human characteristics, and like beaver is a very capable little feller who can hold up the sky.

Devil woman Myth

A so-ytanakh man came, carrying his blanket, came to hattkaw kiramtha’, & lay down, for he was tired, & made a little fire against a log, & got to thinking in his heart that an old woman had told him it was a bad place, & suddenly someone coughed & a devil woman (=silam way we-th, devil woman) said to him: you talk me bad, you say bad place here you say bad people here, what for you call me bad, ah! When you go to sleep I will take sharp stick & stick it into your heart. The devil woman was sitting on a rock as she said this. The man at once got up & took his quiver, and lit the end of the stick & kept brandishing it as he ran, scared, toward the sa-wnhuykh. He had been heading downriver, but no went around Table Rock side, so as never to pass hathkaw Kirentakh again. (340) Shaman in olden times were very powerful and could do exactly as is stated here.


Frances says Latkawa’ is not Jacksonville- it is a place way s. (south) of here-thinks Mollie is Lathkawa. (352) Latgawa is perhaps a village name placed further south in the valley.

Hanesakh (another band of Takelamas in the Rogue Valley)

T’u-tskwanaps, ch., =small in Mary Eagan’s Ha-ne-sakh dialect.= Frances T’oso-w= Molly’s dialect T’o-tset (301) Not much on the Hanesakh people, we have a territory description for later.

Tyee John

Shasta Old John was named xame-xaya’koma’s ca., mg. married by the ocean. Ev. he had had a coast Ind. Wife. ‘alam was old John’s son. ‘alam had both legs cut off in a steamboat (?) accident. He talked sesti’ language, he was a sesti Indian. (260) This is clearly Tyee John, Chief John who led the Rogue River Confederacy. Tyee John had a son Adam, both John and Adam were arrested at Siletz for instigating the tribal people to leave and return home. They were taken by steamboat to the presidio and jailed there for several years. When on the steamboat John and his son organized an escape then the boat was at anchor near Crescent City. They were both recaptured, but Adam’s injuries caused him to lose his legs. This is evidentially confirmation (again) that John was a Shasta Indian, a fact which has been much debated among scholars. It is highly likely John grew up Shasta, and that his mother was of a different tribe which was common in these days. Sesti/sasti is what the original people were called. Albert Gatschet collected “Sasti” language from the northern Shastas at Grand Ronde in 1977.

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