The Road to Oceti Sakowin Camp: Stories From the Lines

His voice is heavy with the weight of struggle, yet stands tall with determination and will. His name is Christopher Francisco, a proud Navajo Diné brother who was one of the last to feel the effects of the Indian boarding school system and its manifesto of ‘kill the Indian, save the man’. Christopher is a strong and solid soul who cares very deeply for the Earth and his People and has been very active in defending their Sovereignty.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0216.JPG We have become fast friends and I have learned a great deal from his wisdom. We have started working together on story gathering projects here at Oceti Sakowin Camp during this time of struggle against the North Dakota Access Pipeline.

Listen to his Story.


Valentines Day | The Drive

The time is nigh for the Cupids of the world to indulge themselves in hallmark chocolate and prompted flower buying.

The modern market for Cupid.

The modern market for Cupid.

Why this one day to lay
our souls on the line to our sweeties? Why the mass love fest on febuary, the 14th? Well.. Let’s go for a drive.

The origins of the chocolate orgy we call, “Valentines Day”, came from the Romans, who celebrated a ritual called, Lupercalia. Lupercalia dates way back, even before the Romans decided to get arrogant and help invent Imperialism, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia. It was a ritual that was observed on February 13 through 15, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. How did they do this?

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility

The Lupercalian Festival in Rome (ca. 1578–1610), drawing by the circle of Adam Elsheimer, showing the Luperci dressed as dogs and goats, with Cupid and personifications of fertility

The festival began with the sacrifice by the Luperci (or the flamen dialis) of two male goats and a dog.[10] Next two young patrician Luperci were led to the altar, to be anointed on their foreheads with the sacrificial blood, which was wiped off the bloody knife with wool soaked in milk, after which they were expected to smile and laugh.

The sacrificial feast followed, after which the Luperci cut thongs from the skins of the animals, which were called februa, dressed themselves in the skins of the sacrificed goats, in imitation of Lupercus, and ran round the walls of the old Palatine city, the line of which was marked with stones, with the thongs in their hands in two bands, striking the people who crowded near. Girls and young women would line up on their route to receive lashes from these whips. This was supposed to ensure fertility, prevent sterility in women and ease the pains of childbirth.

Now, let’s go buy some chocolates.

Keeper of the Fire

Long ago, when the world was young, all people were happy, The Great Spirit, whose home is in the sun, gave them all they needed. No one was Hungry, no one

'Keeper of Fire' | © 2015 H a v e n

‘Keeper of Fire’ | © 2015 H a v e n

was cold. But after a while, two brothers quarreled over the land. The elder one wanted most of it, and the younger one wanted most of it. The Great Spirit decided to stop the quarrel. One night while the brothers were asleep he took them to a new land, to a country with high mountains. Between the mountains flowed a big river.

The Great Spirit took the two brothers to the top of the high mountains and wakened them. They saw that the new country was rich and beautiful.

“Each of you will shoot a arrow in opposite directions,” he said to them. “Then you will follow your arrow. Where your arrow falls, that will be your country. There you will become a great chief. The river will separate your lands.”

One brother shot his arrow south into the valley of the Willamette River. He became the father and the high chief of the Multnomah people. The other brother shot his arrow north into the Klickitat country. He became the father and high chief of the Klickitat people.

Then the Great Spirit built a bridge over the big river. To each brother he said, “I have built a bridge over the river, so that you and your people may visit those on the other side. It will be a sign of peace between you. As long as you and your people are good and are friendly with each other, this bridge of the Tahmahnawis will remain.

Building of the the modern day Bridge of the Gods, ca. 1925

Building of the the modern day Bridge of the Gods, ca. 1925

It was a broad bridge, wide enough for many people and many ponies to walk across at one time. For many snows the people were at peace and crossed the river for friendly visits. But after a time they did wicked things. They were selfish and greedy, and they quarreled. The Great Spirit, displeased again, punished them by keeping the sun from shining. The people had no fire, and then the winter rains came, they were very cold.

Then they began to be sorry for what they had done, and they begged the Great Spirit for fire. “Give us fire, or we will die from the cold,” they prayed. The heart of the Great Spirit was softened by their prayer. He went to an old woman who had kept herself from the wrongdoing of her people and so still had some fire in their lodge.

“If you will share your fire, I will Grant you anything you wish,” the Great Spirit promised her. “What do you want most?”

"Eternal" | ©2015 H a v e n

“Eternal” | ©2015 H a v e n

“Youth and beauty,” answered the old woman promptly, “I wish to be young again, and to be beautiful.”

“You shall be young and beautiful tomorrow morning,” promised the Great Spirit. “Take your fire to the bridge, so that the people on both sides of the river can get it easily. Keep it burning there always as a reminder of the goodness and kindness of the Great Spirit.”

The old woman, whose name was Loo-wit, did as he said. Then the Great Spirit commanded the sun to shine again. When it rose the next morning, it was surprised to see a young and beautiful maiden sitting beside a fire on the Bridge of the Gods. The people, too, saw the fire, and soon their lodges were warm again. For many moons all was peaceful on both sides of the great river and the bridge.

The young men also saw the fire–and the beautiful young woman who attended it. They visited her often. Loo-wit’s heart was stirred by two of them–a handsome young chief from south of the river, whose name was Wyeast, and a handsome young chief from north of the river, whose name was Klickitat. She could not decide which of the two she liked better.

Wyeast and Klickitat grew jealous of each other and soon began to quarrel. They became so angry that they fought. Their people also took up the quarrel, so that there was much fighting on both sides of the river. Many warriors were killed.

The Dalles, Oregon. ca. 1884

The Dalles, Oregon. ca. 1884

This time the Great Spirit was made angry by the wickedness of the people. He broke down the Bridge of the Gods, the sign of peace between the two tribes, and its rocks fell into the river. He changed the two chiefs into mountains. Some say that they continued to quarrel over Loo-wit even after they were mountain peaks. They caused sheets of flame to burst forth, and they hurled hot rocks at each other. Not thrown far enough, many fell into the river
and blocked it. That is why the Columbia is very narrow and the water very swift at the Dalles.

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

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

Loo-wit was changed into a snow-capped peak which still has the youth and beauty promised by the Great Spirit. She is now called Mount St. Helens. Wyeast is known as Mount Hood, and Klickitat as Mount Adams. The rocks and white water where the Bridge of the Gods fell are known as the Cascades of the Columbia.

——-Clark,Ella (1953) Indians of the Pacific Northwest (renewed 1981). The Regents of the University of California


Editor of The Pioneer:
(Published in Skamania County Pioneer, January, 1946)
In your editorial “52 Years Old”, which you published on December 21st, last year, you stated among other things that mail came in to Stevenson around 52 years ago via boat from The Dalles or Portland. Permit me, please, to correct that statement. At that time the mail came to Stevenson via rowboat from Cascade Locks. The steamboat, then plying between Upper Cascade Locks and The Dalles, did not carry mail any more after the railroad on the Oregon side of the Columbia River was in operation, which was about in l880.

John Skaar and an unidentified man.

John Skaar and an unidentified man.

When I came here in 1883 there was no post office on the North side of the Columbia River between Cascade (now North Bonneville) and the White Salmon country. The first post office in that area was established in either 1891 or 1892, near the mouth of Nelson Creek about one mile East of Stevenson and was named “Nelson Creek”. I well remember how happy we settlers were at that time because we could from then on walk (part of the way over a trail) right to the store and post office. No longer was it necessary to make the very inconvenient and often dangerous trip by rowboat to Cascade Locks or to send or receive mail, or to buy groceries. A few years later a post office was established at Stevenson and the post office at Nelson Creek was discontinued. In 1893 the post office “Carson”” was established in Wind River Valley with a twice-a-week mail service and of course we settlers were very much pleased when that event took place.

Carson, as far as the lower valley flat is concerned, had two periods of settlement. Aside from the few very early actual settlers (the Greers, Monaghans, Esterbrooks and St.Martins) the first and temporary settlement took place between 1880 and 1886, at which time a sawmill was in operation where the town of Carson is now. As that sawmill had capacity of sawing 30,000 feet per day, many men were employed at times when the mill ran full time. This sawmill concern took the timber off of more than 1,000 acres and more than half of it they cut unlawfully from government owned land and they got away with it, but once they did not “get by with it” and that incident is worth telling.

It happened in 1886, a short time before they moved the mill to Underwood. There was a stand of timber half a mile west of the mill which they wanted yet. The homesteader who claimed that timber would not, and could not legally, sell the timber, but they were determined to have it and one day they sent in the fallers. The homesteader ordered them off of his land but they threatened to do him bodily harm if he did not leave them alone. The next morning when they came to work they found the road, where it crossed the line, fenced and inside stood the homesteader’s wife with a shotgun threatening to “shoot to kill” anyone who should attempt to cross the line — that helped, they left that timber alone after that. The fact that the shotgun was not loaded they, of course, did not know.

The second and permanent period of settlement started in 1887 when actual settlers took up the logged over land as homesteads. Old Carson photo st. martin sourceIn September, 1887 when I moved onto my homestead there were, in all, eight families and five bachelors living in Wind River Valley. As
we could not make a living on the land at first we had to work out or make cordwood, drive it down Wind River once a year, ship to The Dalles by scow and trade it off for goods mostly, as cash money was very hard to get those days. With the turn of the century came a turn for the better to us settlers.

Pioneering had its charm as well as its hardships. We did not know anything about the modern improvements that the modern people now have and we were happy without them.

The naming story of Lost Lake.

“In August of 1873, a party of men from The Dalles made a horseback trip around Mount Hood with John Divers of Hood River as their guide. Wyeast on lost lake They knew the body of water as ‘Big Lake,’ and reached it by following Lake Branch of the Hood River to its source. Arriving at the lake during a typical Lost Lake rainstorm they proceeded to build lean-to shelters by stripping cedar bark from the great trees. On their third night at the lake, while lingering over an evening meal of trout, one of the Diver’s boys said: I wonder if that stuff on those trees would burn?’ and without thinking touched a long strand of dry moss with a red-hot stick he had just used to light his pipe. The moss burst into flame and quickly spread to other trees. They left without stopping to gather their camping gear. Wind swept the fire south and up what was later to become known as Huckleberry Mountain. The purple berries appeared in great number a few years after the fire.

The story remained a family secret for many years and Lost Lake remained ‘lost’ until its official discovery in 1880 by a group of 11 men from Hood River. Leaving town on August 18th they traveled south to the present site of Dee where they experienced their first adventure. In order to reach the west side of the river they had to fell a large tree and then crawl across to the other side. Their animals were hauled across the river with ropes. Reaching the upper West Fork of the Hood River they found the area completely burned over from a forest fire the year. The soft ash quickly filled their shoes and made travel difficult, but they did eventually reach a point high in the hills where, according to their calculations, the lake should have been. It was not there. One of the party said: We must be lost.’ ‘Oh, no,’ replied Smith, a competent surveyor, ‘we know exactly where we are. It’s like the Indian who said he wasn’t lost-his wig-warn was.’ Continuing southward the men finally reached the take and christened it Lost Lake as a result of Mr. Smith’s remark.”


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.

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”. …”