11/22/2006: "Remembering those who came before us"
While plowing in the north yard last June, Nate turned up some curious stones, one of which is pictured below.
The stone is obsidian, and most likely was a Native American tool. Since obsidian is usually found in central Oregon, not on the valley floor, it probably was traded from a tribe living in the vicinity of modern-day Bend, Oregon. What we call Living Green Farm is less than a mile from Calapooia River, a tributary of the Willamette; the river is named after the Kalapuya tribe, which was the dominant tribe of the Willamette Valley at the time of first contact with white settlers. The close proximity of both the Willamette and Calapooia rivers, the evidence of both grasslands and forest patches, and the teeming wildlife evident even today all indicate that this local area was probably prime real estate for the Kalapuyans. Who were these people, and what became of them?
According to Ronald Spores, writing in an article called "Too Small a Place: The Removal of the Willamette Indians,"
Indian settlement of Western Oregon, including the Willamette Valley, began no later than 10,000 years ago and the Native peoples' way of life evolved slowly over the millennia, as various groups adapted to the abundant natural resources in the mountains, foothills, valley bottoms, and bodies of water. These resources made it possible to exist on the plant, animal, and mineral resources provided by nature, and social, economic, and ideological patterns developed around this mode of subsistence. As whites began to settle in the valley, several thousand surviving Natives pursued traditional ways of life much as they had for centuries, roaming freely hunting small game, gathering insects, fishing, and collecting seeds, grasses nuts, and a wide array of stems, leaves, fibers, berries and roots(n2) For the most part, they were content to coexist with the intruders.
The Willamette valley was rich in flora and fauna, and the Kalapuya had many food sources. Of course, seasonal elk and deer hunting and berry-picking were a large part of the native diet. Curiously, salmon were not a part of the Kalapuyan food supply; the falls at what is now Oregon City kept salmon from progressing any further upriver into the Willamette valley. The Kalapuyans were not entirely foragers and hunters; they practiced a form of agriculture by harvesting camas bulbs, burning to control weeds, and re-seeding for a successive crop. Camas, of course, was a staple food of the Kalapuyans; it is the root that is the edible portion of the plant, which is a member of the lily family. Camas roots were often roasted, and sometimes pounded into simple cakes for travel food. Fire was also a means to drive game into an area for hunting, and it served to clear out the underbrush from oaks and other nut trees.
Click here or on the photo for a larger view of a Camassia-quamash plant. Photo courtesy of William & Wilma Follette @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992.
The use of fire as a horticultural practice is really one of the most interesting things about Pacific Northwest native Americans, and it is a current area of research (warning: opens PDF file) for ethnobotanists and even forestry departments. There are settler accounts of the use of fire, and even a transcribed interview with an elderly Kalapuyan who witnessed fire-burning practices in his youth. The Oregon History Project even has a painting of Indian burning in the Willamette Valley.
There were estimated to be somewhere around a dozen bands in the Kalapuya tribe, with total population of about 10,000 members in the early part of the nineteenth century. However, historians have started to question whether the early counts of native population were seriously in error on the low side; some have theorized that the total North American native population was off by as much as a factor of 10. It certainly seems to me that the Willamette valley, which runs more than a hundred miles north to south and 20 miles east-west, could have supported well more than 10,000 natives.
The Kalapuya were semi-nomadic; they travelled throughout the valley in the dry months in search of food and game, but remained in more or less permanent winter camps. According to Henry Zenk's Handbook of North American Indians, Kalapuyan men wore loincloths or nothing in the summer months, and buckskin leggings, trousers, and shirts during chillier weather. Cloaks are also mentioned, though Zenk does not specify what animal skins were used (elk?). The fashionably dressed Kalapuyan woman would wear skirts and dresses of cedar bark, rushes, and grasses, with perhaps a buckskin dress worn in the winter. The Kalapuyans were skilled basket weavers, and made both containers and hats from grasses and other natural materials. I'm indebted to this article from the online history of Salem for providing these and other details.
It is interesting to look at the trees and plant of Living Green Farm through the eyes of a ethnobotanist. We have a good number of stately Oregon oaks, which would have provided acorns for food.
The wild area in the western rear of the property would have been a perfect moist camas meadow; the wild roses that cover that hidden meadow now are competitors to camas, and the Kalapuyan would have periodically burned the rose meadow to encourage camas population over rose growth. Indeed, the pasture area of the Farm is really quite like the aboriginal Oregon oak savanna, with its rolling geography and interspersed trees. Channa told me recently that they observed a deer bounding over the fence as though it were not even there, so there are still deer resources locally (which I hope does not force us to put in tall fences to protect crops).
As for what became of the Kalapuya, Ronald Spores' article in American Indian Quarterly, referenced near the start of this entry, documents the classic story. Of the fifteen thousand native Americans who inhabited western Oregon at the turn of nineteenth century, disease (referred to as 'fever and ague,' thought to be malaria) killed 85% of them in the decade from 1830 to 1840. The introduction of pigs into the Willamette valley had the unfortunate effect of decimating the Kalapuya staple crop, camas roots, since the swine often roamed free or got away and dug up camas roots as a food source. By the time the Oregon Trail really got going in the 1850's, the native peoples were spread out into small politically powerless bands. Although there was localized friction with the newcomers, the native populations of the Willamette valley did not rise up en masse against the settlers; in many instances, native men found temporary jobs splitting rails or doing other menial work for settlers in return for food or gifts.
Like other native peoples on this continent, the Kalapuya had no cultural reference for owning land; to them, land was free for everyone to use. They didn't want to fit into the box that (sometimes well-meaning. sometimes not well-meaning) Indian administrators wished to put them: accept these gifts in exchange for your lands, limit yourself to this area, and you will be left alone. It's for your own safety. Don't anger the white settlers. Over time, the boxes got smaller and smaller, leading to Alquema, the chief of the Santiam band, to complain, "It would tie us up in too small a place. It is no reserve at all." The growing population of white settlers was vociferous in insisting that the Kalapuya be pushed entirely out of the valley, either to the east, which would have been disastrous as they had no cultural skills to survive in the high desert, or to the west past the Coast range. In 1855 administrator Joel Palmer concluded a series of treaties with the remaining bands, some of which numbered only two dozen in population. The deal called for payments from the U.S. government in the amount of about $150,000 spread over 30 years (several cents per acre!), and required the bands to accept a tiny reservation in the far northwest corner of the valley. Today that reservation is known as Grande Ronde, and it's mostly famous for its prosperous casino and traffic jams on Highway 18 on Sunday afternoons.
The Willamette Valley Indians had arrived at their final camping ground, the smallest place they had ever known. The whites had gotten the rich lands of the valley and found themselves much relieved and gratified to be rid of the nuisance of the Indians and the threat of being "burned up by them in the night." Joel Palmer's stubborn persistence had gotten him his reservation. The "visionary" Palmer probably took more abuse for his views and his actions than any person in public service in Oregon Territory. Legislators denounced him and his efforts to "congregate the Indians in and among white settlements." The press attacked him. whites cursed him. The Indians believed in him, for they had no one else. He negotiated the treaties and forced the Indians from their rightful domain. He cleared the valley of the last organized vestiges of a Native civilization that had endured for centuries. Yet, there should be no mistake that his efforts, his understanding, his persuasive manner saved the Calapooyas, the Molallas, the Clakamas, and several thousand other Oregon Indians from certain extermination. It could be claimed that he delivered his wards into bondage, condemning them to a slow spiritual death at Grand Ronde. But the alternative was annihilation at the hands of the "new Americans" who steadfastly refused either to tolerate "undesirables," to treat them as equals, or to incorporate them into white society. The Indians had been denied their right to exist in "too small a place." Grand Ronde was another, even smaller, place, a white man's place, but at least a place.
Friday I'll be down at the farm with the girls, celebrating a belated Thanksgiving. You can bet that I'll be thinking of those that came before us.