A Fierce and Mighty Wind

The fish wheel in the back ground looms like a dragon, ready to pounce, and devour a way of life, hungry and impermanent. I often dream of the other years,

Celilo Falls, post card. ca. 1930

Celilo Falls, post card. ca. 1930

but often find myself barely able to remember how to fish as I browse the supermarket aisle for the freshest caught bargain. Irony showers my existence. I feel like there is this wind that is blowing so hard it will knock the ‘Indian’ right out of me. I watch the flat surface of the lake that now covers the “echoes of falling water”, and see my cousins being shunned from their tribes for not having enough blood-quantum, and tribes, such as the Wy’am and many Columbia River Indians, not being seen as a Sovereign Nation and I feel lost. To be honest, Gathering the Stories is my anchor, or stump, you could say, to this wind, and I must say, it scares the living shit out of me to know that my offspring will no longer be considered part of a tribe.

Reading links:
Read about Celilo Falls from the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission here

Read about the dis-enrollment of Chief Tumulth’s descendants from the Grande Ronde Tribe based on blood-quantum here

Read “Recalling Celilo: An Essay by Elizabeth Woody” from the book “Salmon Nation: People, Fish and Our Common Home” here

The Hatfield and McCoy’s of Skamania County

ALL NEIGHBORS NOT GOOD IN COUNTY’S EARLY SETTLEMENTS (Published in Skamania County Pioneer January, 1949)

“Neighbors” in the pioneer days of the county were not always “good neighbors,” according to Henry Metzger, pioneer Carson resident who this week recalled some of the occurances enlivening the early days in Skamania County.

The Hatfield clan from the famous Hatfield and McCoy conflict.

The Hatfield clan from the famous Hatfield and McCoy conflict.

“Much has been, and still is, said and written about the pioneer spirit, the spirit of neighborliness, mutual assistance, courage to take and solve difficult problems as if, and it is true, much of that has been and still is in evidence in this neck of the woods, but it would be folly and serve no good purpose to tell the now growing up generation that everything was sweet peace and harmony among the early settlers, for such was not always the case. Fact of the matter is that, in my opinion at least, there is now much more harmony among the neighbors than there was only about a half century ago. The reason for this I contribute to a much higher standard of education and to the fact that country life is getting more and more like city life, where you often do not know your next door neighbor.

Random photo of a fellow on Larch Mountain during the 1930's.

Random photo of a fellow on Larch Mountain during the 1930′s.

“Maybe I can best illustrate the pioneer spirit by telling of an incident that, I am told, happened in Skamania County about 60 years ago. There were two prominent citizens, joint farmer-neighbors, who could not get along together well. They could not smell one another, so the saying goes. They were not on speaking terms and when they met at public meeting they would oppose each other even if they were of the same opinion on the subject under discussion. It so happened that one of those farmers had hay on, ready to haul in when it looked as if the weather would turn to rain. He started hauling in hay, him on the wagon and his wife, a frail woman, pitching on the hay. But soon his ‘despised’ neighbor appeared and walking up to the woman said in a harsh tone, ‘Give me that fork and you go to the house, that’s where you belong,’ and he started in pitching on the hay and these two men worked for hours together, never speaking a single word to each other, not even would they say ‘thank you’ or ‘good bye’ when they parted after the hay was all in the barn.

“This is what I would call the ‘the Pioneer Spirit in the Rough’.”

Mining for Solitude

“Hidden in the glorious wildness like unmined gold.”- John Muir.

"Rock Creek Falls, ca. 1904" author unknown

“Rock Creek Falls, ca. 1904″ author unknown

I often find the company of a stream, a forest, a lake, a river, more comforting than a room full of humans filled with the best intents and hearts. It seems us humans are always abrasive to the cycles, and tied up in the melodramas of our modern lives. I prefer to be hidden and gloriously alone most times. But, I am never alone, and the gold of the wild, is better than all the fame in heaven.

Listen to Rock Creek from July, 2014 here:

The First Railroad in the Columbia River Basin

The first railroad in the Columbia River Basin was built along the river in 1851. Little more than a cart on rails, it was a portage tramway on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge around The Cascades rapids.

Portage Railroad Track on left. Just below the Cascade rapids. c. 1867

Portage Railroad Track on left. Just below the Cascade rapids. c. 1867

With a mule and one cart, Hardin Chenoweth moved freight and passengers around the rapids for a fee of 75 cents per 100 pounds. In 1894, the little railroad was damaged by flooding and sold to a cannery, which used it to haul salmon from its fish wheels to its production building.

Cape Horn

Did you know that Cape Horn was one of the first European settled areas of Washington?

Cigar Rock at Cape Horn, 1899.

Cigar Rock at Cape Horn, 1899.

The State’s first homestead was taken at Parker’s Landing (near Washougal) in 1845. The year before this,1844, James Walker crossed the continent by ox team from Pennsylvania to Vancouver. Then in 1846 he and his family moved to Cape Horn, thus becoming the first European settlers.

Why did my Chinook Ancestors flatten their heads?

George Catlin. 1850

George Catlin. 1850

The picture is from about 1850 and is a pencil drawing of a scene at The Dalles, on the Columbia River by George Catlin. It clearly depicts the flat heads my tribe gave their children at birth by use of a set cradle board over the forehead during the first few months of life. Learn more here.

I am very interested in why we did this? Were there any old stories that were told that explained why we started flattening our foreheads? How did we come to accept and implement such a custom, that seems so foreign to our modern standards of beauty?

Penny Postcard, ca.1910, "Wind Mountain, Columbia River."

Penny Postcard, ca.1910, “Wind Mountain, Columbia River.”

What role did the landscape we live in play in this custom? I have always noticed a similarity between the contours of Wind Mountain and the profile of the flattened head, is this just coincidence? So many questions… so go’s the seeking.

The Journey has just Begun.

For the last several months I have been deeply steeped in book and print research, but this is not where my passion lies. I wish to be out and about with my recording gear, searching and digging for more knowledge and just sitting with the sound of the rivers and winds. It really is gathering many stories to piece together one story. The very question that started this whole journey was: “Who were my Ancestors?’ and from that one question, come many tributaries. And still my thirst grows.

Auntie Virginia Miller's Canoe. Edward S. Curtis photo

Auntie Virginia Miller’s Canoe. Edward S. Curtis photo

I am about to fully step into the initial aims of this project of documenting what is left of our Stories, meaning, more living persons oral histories. Some of my Watala/Cascade cousins are looking at dis-enrollment from the Grand Ronde tribe (read more here) and fighting for what it means to be ‘Indigenous’. The honest truth is, we are becoming ghosts and I wish to honor a memory, fully and honestly. I want to know what our traditions were. I want to know why Wind Mountain was so Sacred to us and I want it to become sacred again, before we are all gone. I want to know how the landscape shaped our myth and our traditions. Why did we flatten our foreheads? I don’t want to be co-opted into the generalization of the ‘plains noble Indian’, for we were our own People and we are our own People.

BUT….yet, I am the Immigrant carrying goods upriver and I am the hands that would build the dam that would silence it forever. I am of many stories. And giving the way the modern world is swallowing our sense of belonging to place, we too, and our stories, are becoming ghosts.

The journey has just begun.

Grass Man: David Douglas meets my Cousins as told by Jim Atwell

David Douglas was sturdy Scotsman and a remarkable person. Before he was out of his 20′s, he had traveled from his native land to the wilderness of the David_Douglass00Pacific Northwest, where he made the botanical explorations that were to make him famous. It was he who gave his name to the Douglas Fir Tree.

Douglas arrived by ship to Fort George (Astoria, OR.) in 1823. He had been commissioned as a collector for the Royal Horticulture Society to collect any plants unknown to the British Isles. The Gardens of Britain are filled with plants, trees and shrubs introduced from America by Douglas.

Douglas thought nothing of covering up to 50 miles a day on foot through the Wilderness with a 50 pound pack on his back and gun in his hand.

Dr. John McLoughlin

Dr. John McLoughlin

At Fort George, 12 miles upstream, Douglas was a little awed by his first glimpse of the man who was to be his host for the next year, Dr. John McLoughlin, chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Co., was a vigorous giant, standing six foot four, with a regal bearing, arrogant dark eyes, and a great shock of prematurely white hair. Douglas joined McLoughlin in coming from Fort George up to Fort Vancouver. McLoughlin’s plans called for a fort 750 feet square and 20 feet high, enclosing numerous log buildings.

Douglas made several trips upstream to the Cascades of the Columbia. Douglas hoped to gather a shipment of plants back with the ‘William & Ann’ when she sailed in October. He adapted quickly to the new and rugged life, sleeping at night on a bed of pine or fir boughs or under brush, carrying only a little tea in a tin and depending solely on his rifle for food.

Pre-dammed Cascades. 1912(?) author unknown.

Pre-dammed Cascades. 1912(?) author unknown.

One evening about dark while returning down river. Douglas spotted a a column of smoke rising in the forest near the river bank. Thinking it was a camp of voyageurs, or Canadian boatmen, he landed to join them. He failed to realize his mistake, until he found himself surrounded with more than a hundred braves; he had stumbled on a large Indian encampment.

Fortunately, for Douglas, had met their leader, Chief Cockqua, at Fort Vancouver and the Chief invited him to join their feast. They were eating Sturgeon, a fish weighing five hundred punds, which the had cut up and were roasting in the fires. Between sign language and the few English words that Cockqua knew, Douglas was able to carry on a conversation of sorts, but though the chief appeared friendly, the others watched Douglas suspiciously.

He learned that Cockqua’s braves were preparing for war with the tribe across the river and after the feast almost 300 warriors began to dance around the camp fires, leaping and goading themselves into a frenzy with their keening Death Songs. As the excitement mounted, from time to time a brave would dash intio the light of the Chief’s fire and shake his weapons threateningly in Douglas’ face. As Cockqua sat impassively studying his visitor.

Finally, when many of the braves had dropped with exhaustion, Cockqua announced that it was time to retire and that if Douglas was afraid he could spend the night in his tent. Douglas suspected this was a test also and knowing the Chief’s tent would be full of fleas, he refused. With a nod of satisfaction Cockqua motioned to one of the Indians to throw Douglas a skin blanket.

Field & Stream bough shelter. ca.1955

Field & Stream bough shelter. ca.1955

Douglas was aware of the people watching him as he went about his preparations for the night. He built a bough shelter, lit a small fire, then opening his vasculum he took out a number of plant specimens and with great ceremony arranged them in a circle around his lodge as though they were a protective totem.

The people looked puzzled but seemed to understand. No one bothered him that night, but in the morning it was plain Cockqua was not yet ready to let Douglas leave. As a part of their preparations for battle, the Braves staged an archery contest. When one Brave had distinguished himself above all the other, Cockqua motioned that he now wanted Douglas to compete with the Brave. A target was set upon a rock and Douglas hit it with the first shot from his gun. Unimpressed, the grinning Brave did the same with his arrow. Next a target was suspended by a thong from a limb. Douglas hit this too and so did the Brave.

Red Hawk. ©2013 H a v e n

Red Hawk. ©2013 H a v e n

Just then a Hawk flew overhead. Douglas raised his gun to his shoulder, there was a burst of feathers and the Hawk dropped to the ground. Beside him, the Brave grunted as though he had been kicked.

Cockqua smiled enigmatically, refusing to show whether or not he was impressed. He seized a high-crowned hat from one of the people and threw it into the air as though daring Douglas to repeat the feat. Douglas’ shot ripped away the entire crown of the hat. Cockqua picked up the hat, stared at it in amazement, then shoved it down over the owners head so far that his entire head came through. The People seemed to find this very amusing.

‘ The Grass Man is a Great Chief. The Grass Man is a Medicine Man like the Great White Eagle,” Cockqua told everyone.

Douglas Fir Tree.

Douglas Fir Tree.

The People did not attempt to detain Douglas further and soon the title, Grass Man, had spread everywhere along the River. Just as the practical Natives could see no reason for McLoughlin to measure the River, they could see no reason for a man to collect plants he could not eat or smoke, so they concluded that this also had something to do with magical powers.

-Retold by Jim Atwell from his book Columbia River Gorge History Volume One (out of print)

How Carson got it’s name: As told by Henry Metzger

Skamania County Pioneer, April 21, 1939

John Skaar and unidentified man. ca. 1913

John Skaar and unidentified man. ca. 1913


“… Prior to 1893, the nearest store and postoffice was at Cascade Locks, Oregon. To get there and back by rowboat was to say the least, very inconvenient. In that year, A.G. Tucker, an old bachelor, started a store in a miserable, tumble-down shack which was built by the sawmill company. The citizens of Carson applied for a postoffice and were granted a twice-a-week mail service. Mr. Tucker, an ardent admirer of Kit Carson, suggested the name “Carson” for the postoffice and the name was adopted without objection. … Before [there was] a postoffice … Carson was known as “Sprague Landing”. …”

I am of Many Stories.

Sometimes when I look at these pictures, I can hear the wind blowing the sweet smell of Spring rains up through the Gorge. I am Indigenous to this very spot, the Cascades on the Columbia, yet, I am the immigrant carrying goods upriver and I am the hands that would build the dam that would silence it forever. I am of many stories.
Columbia_River_below_the_Cascades_showing_sternwheeler,_ca_1901

Photo: Columbia River below the Cascades, looking west (downriver) showing sternwheeler, probably the Bailey Gatzert. c. 1901