Snowats, Iswukaw and Quartux

The story of Snowats, Iswukaw and Quartux, written down and published by Jesse Applegate in 1907, appears to be a version of one of the four myth ages stories of Albert Gatschet. The stories are collected over 30 years apart and the Applegate account was recalled by him from his experiences with the Kalapuyans in 1843 or soon after during the time that Applegate was living for years among Kalapuyan tribes. The Applegate family, more so than any other notable family in Oregon, made friends with the Kalapuyans and became lifelong allies. This familial relationship of mutual respect and support has spanned now at least four generations or more of the descendants who still live in western Oregon. Gatschet on the other hand spend a few months in 1877 and 1878 in western Oregon at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation. He then briefly traveled to the Tualatin area to conduct some field research based on the stories he heard from Tualatin informants. He also spent some time among the Klamath people. The recollections of the people in 1877 had to be somewhat different from 1843. The Applegate account is however only a fragment, of the much longer story collected by Gatschet.

The story as transcribed by Applegate begins,

“The Kommeman mythology began with the Kommema [Indian people], and the mode and manner of it concisely stated in this:”

““In the beginning was a mountain, and on top of the mountain was a table of stone, and on the table was a deposit of some kind of matter, jelly-like in consistence.”- I think we would call it protoplasm-  “and out of the protoplastic mass grew a living being in the form of, and was, a woman. She help a male child in her arms, and when she was fully grown she descended, carrying the child on her bosom to the valley at the base of the mountain, where the two were joined by a wolf. The woman placed the boy on the Wolf’s back, astride, and passed a strap around the child, and over the wolf’s head, above his eyes.”- and this the story of the beginning. It quits short off with the group of three persons: Snowats, Iswukaw and Quartux, (woman, boy and wolf). And although I first heard this tradition from the lips of a venerable Chemomachot priest sixty years ago, I never found an Indian able to add a word to it. All of the priests, and I believe all the people, knew this much of their origin… I regard it as a remnant of an ancient and probably once well formulated religious system, much of which has been lost, leaving this and other vestiges of creed and articles of faith to be noticed later…”

“We found the natives “proving faith in their traditions by their works.” The person of the wolf was safe among them. He prowled about their villages, and was never molested. The reason is found as we have seen in the story of Snowats, Iswukaw and Quartux. The wolf had been the first acquaintance, companion and friend of the Kommema.” (The Yangoler Chief, Jesse Applegate, 1907 pp 20-23)

Kommema is the Yoncalla name for Indian people. The Yoncallans placed a “k” sound before many nouns. This indicates a dialectical variation which is why Yoncalla is labeled Southern Kalapuyan by linguists. The other Kalapuyans had the form “aminma” or “aminme” and other variations, for “Indian people.”


Quartux appears to be a special name for this “first wolf” because wolf to the Yoncallans is “kama’lint” [kama-the, -lint-wolf in Yonkalla]. For other Kalapuyans they would say “a’mlint” or “a’mu’lind” or other variations.

Chemomachot- or Kalapuyan Priest- was likely what we normally call an Indian doctor today. This word in Applegate appears unique, not appearing in other ethnographic texts. Indian doctors normally are “apalkiasht” or “apalki.” Applegate’s note of “60 years ago” suggests that he first heard the story when his family lived at Salt Creek, because when they first arrived, they lived for a few years there, west of Salem, in the Willamette Valley,  before moving down to the site of the town of Yoncalla in the Umpqua Valley. He likely first heard the story from the Luckamiute Kalapuyan people, then he suggests he may have heard the story occasionally in comparison for 60 years, so he may have heard the story in Yoncalla too.  Of the Kalapuyan priestly order Applegate writes,

“Of all the men of the priestly order the patriarch of the tribe we found inhabiting the country between the south Yamhill and the North Luckyuke was probably the deepest learned in mythological and mystic lore. This was Dickydowdow. His forehead had been flattened when he was an infant; it retreated in a line from his brows to his crown and was as flat as the board against which it had grown. The flattened process had made his head unusually high above his ears. He has numerous wives, as polygamy was not prohibited by the Kalapooya code.” (Recollections of My Boyhood, p 75)

It may very well have been from the priest Dickydowdow that Applegate heard the story of Quartux for the first time.

This story does possibly fit into the story collected by Gatschet in 1877 “The four myth ages.” In summary: In the first age there were people and a dog, and all people of this age “turned over and changed into stars.” The second age there were only a girl and a dog, she became pregnant and from them came the people who turned into pebbles in the rivers; the third age there were all sorts of people on the earth, and flint boy, and the earth was flooded and the animals of the earth came from the flood were changed from people; the fourth age there were a girl and boy, from them came people then came camas.

Its possible that is some versions of the four myth ages that the dog is Quartux the wolf. Gatschet took down the oral histories in 1877 after the tribes had been on the reservation for 21 years (1856) while Applegate first heard the Quartux story in about 1843 when the tribes were still living in their villages. Also from Applegate’s notes, he learned to speak Kalapuyan and Chinuk wawa and so was probably quite fluent in one or both languages.

The emergent figure of the wolf is quite unique because in many tribes the first myth animal is Coyote, also called the changer.

In historic times, since white colonization began, wolves were seen as pests and there were serious attempts to eradicate them. The first meetings of the Oregon settlers- called the Wolf meetings- were convened in part to form a plan to control and eradicate wolves. In addition, the volunteer militias began from these series of meetings, and the creation of the Oregon Organic Acts, also sought to control and protect the colonists from Indians. The Militias that were formed from this did “control natives,” by committing genocide on the tribes in southern Oregon and are largely responsible for many of the Indian wars in Oregon. The comparison history of the eradication of wolves and natives suggests that both were viewed in very similar ways, although native peoples were removed from their lands to live on Indian reservations to leave all of the remaining lands for settlers.

The last native wolf was killed in 1947, making them extinct in Oregon. Wolves were then deemed endangered in the West and so in 1999, the first wolf swam the Snake River into Oregon from the introduction campaign in Idaho. Today, there are more than 150 wolves in Oregon, mostly eastern Oregon. It is interesting that their return somewhat parallels the increasing power, position, and rights of the tribes of Oregon.

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