Certainly we all know the worldwide chain of coffeehouses known as Starbucks. But do we know how they got their name? The website and other sites suggest that the name was chosen from the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851). In the book, Starbuck is the chief mate to the Whaling ship Pequod.
The work of fiction is based on whaler’s accounts of the 19th century, and re-imagines the story of a whaler into an Odysseus like tale of the journey of the hero. The Odyssey follows a ship in the Mediterranean for 20 years as they seek to find their home at Ithaca. The journey is of psychological healing – a journey of a return to sanity from the horrors of war for Odysseus. Similarly the events in Moby Dick are mythically inspired – a heroic confrontation with nature – as the ultimate test of human kind – an internal conflict with the ego of man.
That is likely what many people imaged what whaling was in the 19th century. An ultimate test of humans in the face of the monsters of the Ocean. Many did not survive, as there were many dangers beyond the actual whale hunt and encounter with the whale. Men died of starvation, scurvy, drowning, fighting, and encounters with Native peoples along with other dangers. The journey itself was as significant as the epic encounter with Moby Dick.
We see this theme repeated in books like the “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig (1974). The notion is that the journey is most important in a life, because the summit of the mountain – once reached – is quite uneventful, even boring.
Finally, the recent passing of Glen A. Larson, the Science Fiction author and producer of the Battlestar Galactica Series of books and three TV franchises (1978-1979, 1980, 2003, and 2004-2009), including a spin off Caprica (2010) has a Starbuck family. It is likely but unconfirmed, that Larson borrowed his character Starbuck, from Moby Dick as well.
That is the mythological and psychological level of Moby Dick, and it may be argued that the Starbucks Coffee houses have captured the imagination of the world, and perhaps is a place to have a brief interlude, and find one’s center, while engaged with the trials of human existence. Certainly the chain is synonymous with good coffee, and with consistency. When I am in New York or Washington, D.C. or Portland, Oregon, I know that if I cannot find a good local coffeehouse, that Starbucks is a good stand-in. Sometimes Starbucks is the only place in town to feature such coffee culture.
But beyond the realm of the mythological and literary, the name Starbuck is also significant to a family of seafarers, whalers, of the 19th century. The family out of Nantucket, Massachusetts, specifically Valentine Starbuck and Obed Starbuck were famous captains of whaling and exploratory ships in the Pacific. Valentine Starbuck captained the ship to take Hawaiian King Kamehameha II to Great Britain for a state visit. Obel Starbuck discovered and named numerous island and captained whaling ships which returned over 2000 barrels of sperm oil to Massachusetts. Obel’s whaling ship the “Hero” and his exploits certainly could have been the historic model for the Moby Dick tale. Obel also named an island Starbuck Island in 1823.
In the history of the Northwest Coast, the Northwest Pacific, there are few stories that resonate in so many areas than that of whaling. Today the practice is reviled among Americans and in most nations of the world. But in the 19th century, Whales were another resource to be exploited. Whaling ships by the thousands hunted down a seeming inexhaustible whale fishery. Until the 1870s, whaling was a principal resources that draw many people to the Pacific from the North American whaling capitals Of Boston, Nantucket, and other eastern coastal towns. My own family history has whalers, the Douglass family from Isle au Haut, off the coast of Maine. The family originated as a mariner family, shipwrights from Scotland that immigrated to the new world in the 18th century. In around 1849, the family joined a cooperative of many families to build a schooner, the “California Packet”. They sailed around the Horn and to San Francisco, where they sold the ship – all of the immigrant families going off to seek their fortunes in the gold fields of California. The Douglass family settled in Petaluma, California, where they built the first houses and hotel. Their descendants still live there today. In about 1860, two boys, Abel and Albert Douglass, set out to seek their fortune. Abel met James Dawson in San Francisco and became his whaling ship captain, and for the next 15 or more years they teamed up to be the most productive whalers in the inner straits and Alaska. Douglass and Dawson founded and named a town, Whaletown, on Cortes Island, B.C., a processing center for rendering the oil from whales. This is the heritage of the region.
There was a coffeehouse on the Queen Charlotte islands called Haidabucks. It was an interesting spin on the latter part of the Starbucks name in association with a coffeehouse. But Starbucks told them to cease and desist. In the outcome the Haidabucks company won, stating that they were Haida peoples and the use of bucks is akin to saying guy among native people. Starbucks ceased any movement on the case. But as I have shown Starbucks borrowed its own name from popular literature and yet they take exception to others using the name as well. If I were Starbucks I would have been honored to have this sort of affect in our culture rather than take exception and quash the lesser company.
Various details of this essay were found online at Wikipedia and in “Early Mapping of the Pacific: The Epic Story of Seafarers, Adventurers” by Thomas Saurez, and the Starbucks company website. I have previously done studies of Homer’s the Odyssey, so those sections are based on my personal reflections. Details of the Douglass family are in my personal genealogical records. There are publications about the exploits of Abel Douglass in various books of the time. I collaborated with UBC historian Dr. Jean Barman in around 2003 to give her details of Abel Douglass, that are now written in several of her books. “Maria Mahoi of the Islands” is perhaps the most significant.
Tribal peoples had an encyclopedic knowledge of their land and that of the neighboring tribes who were their relatives and longtime trading partners. Some tribal people would travel very far from their home villages to trade for the choicest resources. Trading hubs like Celilo and Willamette Falls attracted tribes from far upriver enabling tribal people to learn much about their river highways, including the names of landmarks and peoples. The tribes were knowledgeable enough about their regions that when Lewis and Clark explored the Columbia River, the explorers used information gleaned from local tribes to navigate their path and draw their charts and maps. The Lewis and Clark journals include many examples of Tribal headmen and elders drawing maps of the river path ahead, with accurate landmarks in the sand, on hides, on the side of a tree or through narration.
[Clark] “… one of the Indians drew me a sketch of the river, in this sketch he makes the 1st large Southerly fork of Lewis’s river much the longest and on which great numbers of the Snake Indians reside…” (Lewis, et al. 1969e:9).
Clark on the Multnomah River
On their return trip eastward in 1806, Lewis and Clark encountered the Multnomah tribe after the explorers missed the Willamette River in 1805. During this period they called the Willamette River the Multnomah and Clark was guided some distance up the river by a Clowewalla (Oregon City) Indian, a member of the Cash-hooks nation. There the expedition learned of the existence of Willamette Falls, the Clackamas River, and information about Mt. Hood and the Kalapuya Indians in the valley. The expedition never reached the falls. This is the first time non-native people travel the Willamette River.
“… I provaled on an old Indian to mark the Multnomah R down on the sand which [he did] and perfectly corisponded with the sketch given me by sundry others, with the addition of a circular mountain which passes this river at the falls and which connects with the mountains of the Seacoast. He also laid down the Clackamos passing a high conical mountain near its mouth on the lower side and heads in Mount Jefferson which he lais down by raising the Sand as a very high mountain and covered with eternal snow. The high mountain which this Indian lais down near the enterance of Clarkamos river, we have not seen as the hills in it’s direction from this valley is high and obscures the sight of it from us…. This Indian also informed me that Multnomah above the falls was crouded with rapids and thickly inhabited by Indians of the Cal-leh-po-e-wah Nation” (Lewis, et al. 1969d:254-255).
Lewis and Clark on the Oregon Coast
Not usually noted in discussions of the expedition is their mapping of the northern Portion of the Oregon Coast. The expedition remained in their fort in the Clatsop area over the winter and kept fairly close to their encampment. Here they map a portion of the Washington Coast.
They mapped a portion of the coast which concerned the Tillamook and Clatsop tribes, the first to do so.
Lewis and Clark Expedition Mission
The Lewis and Clark Expedition is an honored part of American history. As the young nation began to expand, notions of the need to claim the continent all the way to the Pacific Coast became a part of American life. Visions of the expansion of the nation included Manifest Destiny, the notion that Americans were destined to possess an expansive country regardless of the original inhabitants or previous claimants. The expedition was to native peoples an advance scouting of our lands. President Thomas Jefferson desired to know what sorts of resources there were on the northwest coast and the expedition was to collect that information. On the journey the expedition collected samples of plants and animals and searched for evidence of great wealth. Previously, stories received in the Great Lakes from Native people who had traveled to the Pacific were of the region possessing a great wealth. This captured the attention of President Jefferson.
Lewis and Clark were first and foremost military leaders. They collected information about the populations of each tribe, their ability to mobilize for war using canoes, their resources, fish, deer, the advantages of the Columbia River, its tributaries and the place names of everything they could. The information obtained set the destiny of the American nation to claim the Columbia River from the British who sought to claim the region for their fur trade. We see this in their journals, their collections of examples of wildlife, and in their maps where information about tribal populations and village locations are noted.
Tribal Interpretations of the Impact of the Expedition
The tribes in the region were barely a consideration. Lewis and Clark’s population estimates may have caused a bit of alarm, but a few decades later when diseases decimated the majority of tribes, the region was ripe for claims by the expansionist American government. It is the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the journals published a few years later, describing the wealth of resources of the Northwest Coast that draws tens of thousands of settlers, ranchers and explorers to capture that wealth for themselves. In addition, the expedition’s close contact with the tribes on their route likely caused diseases to be passed among the tribal nations. The expedition’s mission constitutes one of the most massive ethnographic expeditions in history, an event that directly and indirectly caused the decline of native populations, the colonization of hundreds of tribal homelands, and impacts to hundreds of tribal cultures in the next 200 years.
Among the Athapaskan peoples of southern Oregon and northern California, there are world renewal ceremonies. These ceremonies take place over 10 days and involve increasingly extravagant displays of wealth. Beginning with pine nut adorned regalia and necklaces, the progression is to dentalium adored regalia. The ceremonies are highly stylized involving dancing and songs that call on ancestors to help people in the new year, to bring a good smelt harvest and to balance and renew the world for the health and welfare of the people and their environment.
For over 100 years the traditional lifestyles for this area of the world were heavy colonized. In fact Indian agents made it illegal to practice native ceremonies and people had to go into a more secretive form of the ceremonies. Some reports from Siletz and Grand Ronde have people clearing our a house to be used for a dance house. Other places people would dance in a bowling alley or movie theater. But the opposition to plank house and dance house ceremonies was so extreme that for 100 years at least people did not build plank houses. In the 1970’s this all changed for this area of the California and Oregon coastal tribes.
Plankhouse traditions in western Oregon have seen incredible restorative work in the past 20 years. The origin is with the Smith River Rancheria in the 1970s and 80s. There, traditional dancemaker and scholar Loren Bommelyn created the foundation of the movement, with his work on creating the Tolowa language master apprentice technique, parallel restoration of the Feather Dance (Nee-dash) and the building of a dancehouse. Concurrently, the neighboring Yurok Nation has worked to build plankhouses at Requa, Siletz built their Plankhouse in the 1990s, and the Coquille Indian Tribe Siletz and Grand Ronde have now all restored and built their own plankhouses. These are the first such buildings of this type in at least 100 years, since they were burned and otherwise discouraged by the United States Government.
The Grand Ronde Plankhouse was finished in 2010 after a decade of work by many people in the tribe. The Grand Ronde effort was initially lead by Grand Ronde elder and archaeologist Don Day, who worked to restore traditional planksplitting traditions. His early work began with the development of wooden splitting wedges and wooden mallets. Don worked with tribal members to split ten-foot cedar logs with only wooden tools. In the course of a decade of work Don has taught hundreds of tribal members throughout the Northwest to split cedar planks and developed advanced techniques for splitting planks from cedar logs of any length.
Don took his inspiration to the Grand Ronde Tribal Council and got the approval to begin work on developing and building a Plankhouse. Tribal members worked on the project over the years using many tons of old growth cedar logs donated by the Willamette National Forest. The project was completed in 2010 under leadership of Cultural Specialist Bobby Mercier and other tribal members and employees.
Additional projects have occurred off-reservation, at universities and colleges with developing Native Studies programs. Don has worked to create hand-split plankhouses for the Museum of Cultural and Natural History in Eugene, OR. Don then contributed to the University of Oregon Plankhouse, and the recently completed Lane Community College Plankhouse (2010).
The restoration of plankhouses has also spread to the Columbia River with the building of the Cathlapotle Plankhouse in the Chinook territory. This plankhouse is located at Ridgefield National Wildlife refuge in Washington.
These restoration activities parallel those of the restoration of canoe traditions as tribes seek to restore what was thought to have been lost through the colonization of our lands over 100 years ago. Tribes have discovered that they can effectively network and support one another to find the wisdom and knowledge to help one another in restoration of significant cultural art-forms. These collaborative projects include canoe journeys, carving traditions, language restoration and preservation, dance, song and ceremony restoration, ethnobotany and recovery of history.
Canemah is now a neighborhood of Oregon City, but in the 1850s Canemah was a tribal village situated above the Willamette Falls on the eastern bank. The neighborhood today is steeped in history with a number of streets named for the native families who lived at the village, like ‘Apperson’. There native people would help portage canoes and supplies down the side of the falls to Oregon City. The location has an important shipbuilding history, of constructing sternwheelers, that by 1856 would ply the upper Willamette River as far as Eugene. Canemah may have been the furthest south for any permanent village of the Chinookan peoples.
Clackamas People refers to the original Chinookan (group of Native American) tribes of this area, which included bands known as Tumwaters, Clowwewallas, William’s Band, John’s Band and others. These people built canoes and great plankhouses, out of cedar wood. The name Canemah came from kanim, which is the word for canoe in the Clackamas People’s language of trade and interaction, Chinook Jargon (now called Chinook Wawa– the dialect that developed between 1856 and 1956 at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation). They likely chose the area above the falls for their village because of its location high on the bluffs where they could oversee Willamette Falls.
For thousands of years, Willamette Falls has been a significant fishing and trading place for Native Americans. The river was filled with salmon, Pacific lamprey and other fish, and the banks of the steep falls provided an excellent place to catch fish as they attempted to climb the falls. Because of this unique topographic and natural resource condition, other Native American tribes traveled sometimes from hundreds of miles away to fish and trade in the area. As part of the settlement, trade, and social traditions practiced by early Native Americans, the Clackamas People held resource rights to Willamette Falls and the Lower Willamette and Lower Clackamas Rivers and their tributaries These rights enabled them to collect a fee, known as a tribute, from visiting tribes for use of the area.
In the 1830s-40s European fur trade brought early pioneers to the area, and canoe travel along the Willamette River increased. Canemah was the location of portage around Willamette Falls. The Clackamas People helped early pioneers navigate the steep terrain around the falls and served as guides for travel south into the Willamette Valley.
Such close contact with early pioneers spread unfamiliar diseases to the Native people and by 1851, approximately 97% of the Native people in the Willamette Valley had died from smallpox and other foreign diseases. By the time the first land treaties were negotiated, only a very small number of Clackamas People remained. In 1856, the Clackamas tribe ceded its lands to the United States government and its people were relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation where their descendants reside today. Their descendants, members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, still speak Chinuk Wawa, build canoes and plankhouses, and come to fish at Willamette Falls to this day.
Willamette Falls was the main fishing area for the tribes. Salmon and lamprey eels were caught as they worked to climb or leap over the falls. The Clackamas People constructed fishing platforms and fished with dip nets for the salmon. Eels were caught by people walking or swimming into the falls with baskets.
The salmon and eels were dried and used as trade items with other tribes. Atfalati (Tualatin) Kalapuyas, the neighboring tribe to the southwest of the falls, traded camas and wapato bulbs for dried salmon and eel. Other resources associated with the rivers were sturgeon, steelhead, freshwater mussels, crawdads, and native trout.