To Dive, Sink and the mystery suffix -m

So the previous post was about the Hanis and Milluk verb tk’wil– to dive, sink and dilm-to be sunk in the water. In Jim Buchanan’s “Nephew Story” aka “The Girl and the Sea Serpent” the verb tk’wil-appears two more times – and this time with a bonus mystery suffix, –m!! So on to the examples. The first appearance in the story is near the beginning in the ninth line:

hînī g•īkwa tEk•élîmxEm lau hînī he mîlat lE gwēîs

there a.little dive.?.PROG DEM there HAB ART girl

Frachtenberg translates this as “The young woman was swimming where there was a somewhat deep place”. The latter half of the sentence – lau hînī he mîlat lE gwēîs meaning ‘there the girl swam’ is pretty straightforward.

It is the first half which is interpreted as describing the depth of the water where she swam that gets interesting. hînī=there and g•īkwa=a little, but tEk•élîmxEm isn’t directly about depth. At the root we have tEk•él=tk’wil, to dive or to sink. Then the unidentified m, then xEm=xom=a progressive or imperfective. In Frachtenberg’s grammar he said this suffix “expresses the idea to bein a position, to be in a condition, to be in the act of” and was usually affixed to ‘verbs of motion or intransitive verbs’.

So literally “There a little it was sinking/diving” as a metaphorical description for depth. Is it possible that the -m here is a nominal suffix? There is a little used one, -Em (-om) that he described as “…‘ noun of location’, affixed to adverbs only and is usually preceded byadverbial suffix ch. “It may best be rendered by the part of, the side of”. Ho yixewox hloxachom=of the house the inside part.” I don’t know if this is the answer, but to my mind it makes some sense.

The other appearance is at the end of the story. The sea serpent has told the girl who essentially raised him that he will live in the sea now, after gifting her family with some whales, then he swims away over the bar of the bay and dives. The sentence is:

L!ēitc qáimîsetc, hînī tEk•élîmîtsqEm

to.go.out bar.LOC there dive.?.REFL

It went out over/thru the bar, there it sunk itself (into the water).

Frachtenberg translated as “it went out of the bar and let itself down into the water”. In his grammar, when the suffix xom/qom follows the transitive ts (altho’ the transitive markers use has broadened, especially that of -t, to sometimes being a general verbal marker rather than explicitly transitive) it has, as he puts it ‘a reflexive character’. So here the serpent ‘caused itself to dive’ or ‘sunk itself’. It isn’t a construction that occurs on nouns -but then neither does the -xom suffix – so I am not sure what the mystery -m is doing in this construction.

From here on out I need to try to collect any other examples I run across of ‘mystery m’s’. Just in case.

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To Dive, to sink, sunk in the water

Anyone who has ever studied another language realizes that it’s tricky translating from one language to another – there is so much variation between languages in terms of idioms, semantic domains of individual words (like in Russian they don’t have a separate word for foot and leg), syntax, and so on. Since I work on languages without fluent living speakers (though we have found some people who still recall some words) when I find a sentence or word collected by an earlier scholar that I am not sure of the exact meaning of, unfortunately I don’t have anyone to ask further questions. Today I was trying to figure out Hanis verbs for diving and sinking.

The usual verb for ‘dive, sink’ in both Hanis and Milluk is tk’wil. Below are some Hanisexamples,the first two from Frachtenberg’s Coos Texts, then a couple from Jacobs’ notebooks. I am going to give some context for each one so we can figure out the nuance of the verbs better.

This example comes from Jim Buchanan’s telling of the flood story, where the land ‘sinks’ (probably describing a quake) before a tsunmami/flood comes:

F.45.25: TEkwî´l lE xāapatc lE L!tā.

              Tk’wil lo xapach lo tl’ta

              Tk’wil lo xapach lo tl’ta

              sink/dive ART water.LOC ART earth

             The land sunk into the water.

This one describes a young man diving into the water (after he does so, his sneaky father in law makes ice to trap him, but fear not he escapes in the end):

F.26.27  TEk!wî´l lE xāapatc.

              Tk’wil lo xapach

              Tk’wil lo xapach

             sink/dive ART water.LOC

             (He) dove into the water.

Taking a quick peak at Milluk, the verb tk’wil-appears several times as ‘dive’. Here is one example from a compilation Dr. Larry Morgan made of Annie Peterson’s Milluk stories, this one from the Trickster cycle:


           and when you dive for it

Here is the story of Stone Hammer Boy as told by Annie Peterson. At the end of the story, he dives around the bay several times but never ‘sticks out’, as Annie described to Jacobs. Eventually he does stick out of the water, becoming one of the “Utter Rocks” that used to be in the bay:

J100:135 Gɛ´ndj-hɛ• dilmítsq’ɛm, in-hɛ´•’wi•yɛt.

                Qanch-he dilmitsqem, in hewiiyat.

               Qanch he dilmtsqem, in hewiiyat.

               Place Habitual sink-REFL NEG grow.CAUS

               He dived in everywhere but he stuck up out of the water (Jacobs translation)

               Every place he sunk himself (into the water), (but) he didn’t grow.

Notice how we suddenly switched from tk’wil-to dive, sink and now we have a new verb, dilm– which Annie and Jacobs translated as ‘dived’. But…does dilm– really mean ‘to dive’? Alas there are not very many examples of dilm– but I did find one interesting one. In a chief’s post-mortem personal name. You can read a bit about him here. In short he was a notorious Lower Umpqua chief who came to be known as “Sunk in the Water” after he was killed because he was shot in a canoe and fell into the water. “Sunk In The Water” was rendered as Dilmi in Hanis, Tl’muuwax in Siuslaw. The Siuslaw term was explained as coming from the word tl’muuxwa meaning heavy, waterlogged, a sunken log. These logs could be navigation hazards for canoes as one end could kind of stick up, or nearly so, and move a bit with the tide. As a tl’mu’waxw, it was something completely sunken to the bottom of river. Dilm– seems to be a Hanis equivalent.

So, it seems in the Annie’s “Qanch he dilmitsqem, in hewiiyat” an alternate translation could be “Every place he sunk himself (into the water), (but) he didn’t grow (above the water).” So here she was playing with the concept of ‘dive’ and instead of using the more common verb for that tk’wil– she decided to use sunk (dilm-) plus a reflexive suffixes (-tsqem). I also see for further fun she didn’t use the verb enik– to stick out, but instead used a construction of grow (hew-) plus the causative (-iiyat) to describe not sticking out of the water. Storytellers like Buchanan and Peterson could sometimes get very playful with their word choices, verbal constructions and idioms. Since they are no longer here to ask ‘well what is the difference between tk’wil– and dilm-?’ I am left with trying to chase down any appearances of each word I can find and their context. Sometimes that gives me enough information to puzzle out some deeper, more nuanced meanings.

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Spooky stories compilation for Halloween 2018

It is that time of year once again for tales of the eerie, strange, or downright horrifying. So for lazy linking, here is the compilation from October 13 2016 that compiles several stories up to that date.

Then we have another story of the Nuuskilii – the dangerous women translated variously as pitch-dress-ogresses or giantesses. They like kidnapping men and children. So, men and children, be very wary of extremely tall women wearing pitch-covered clothing!

Then we have the disturbing story of “The Five Shadows”.

And finally, returning to the story I posted earlier this year about the mysterious “Hollering Monster”.

So put on the teapot and enjoy some eerie stories.

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New word: dark (colors)

At this stage, I don’t find many new Hanis words. Found one last night, however, a new word for ‘dark’.

In St Clair’s (1903) and Frachtenberg’s work (1909) with Hanis speakers Jim Buchanan and Tom Hollis, they recorded a verb and a noun for ‘to be dark (a lack of light), darkness’. The verb is liit-, as in this story about the time the sun did not rise one morning:

tlepqánien kwe yuu liiyá’at

ten=ORD it.seems very

For ten days it was very dark.

The noun, darkness/lack of light, is liiyéos.

When Jane Sokolow came to Oregon in 1965 to work with the last known fluent Hanis speaker, Martha Harney Johnson, she recorded ‘dark’ as liiyat. But she got a second, completely different word for ‘dark’, k’wƗƛč (k’witlch). This word is recorded nowhere else (to my knowledge), and I assume that it refers to the second English meaning of ‘dark’; dark shades of colors.

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Libby, or HeldƏnita, a Milluk woman

Libby (Coos) & Mike Tinalon, husband, at Libby, Newport Mine, OR. (Beckham 3200 DPI. 5.16.2018)

Photo: Left, Mike Tinalon or perhaps Quinlin; right, Heldoniita/Libby (Milluk). Photo date unknown; some time in 1880s or 1890s. Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Beckham via Flanagan family

Some may remember that Coalbank Slough was once called Libby Slough, and that near the old Newport mine was a short lived town that was named Libby. What people may not recall that Libby was the English name of a Milluk woman. I’ve never found out how she came by the English name Libby but her Milluk nickname was Hɛ´ldǝnita (Heldoniita), a name from the Milluk verb hɛldǝnu (heldonu) which means ‘row over row, ruffle over ruffle’ in reference to the many shell necklaces she had. The brother of Libby/Heldoniita was one of the South Slough chiefs, so she was born into a wealthy family. Annie said she (and her own mother “Matilda”) also owned fancy dresses made of small feathers. She said they were made of all colors of feathers – “Blue jays, meadowlark, red headed woodpecker, green headed mallard ducks’ (head feathers), eagle down.” (Jacobs 97:54) These dresses too may have been a kind of wealth item. Libby was related to other high ranking families, both Hanis and Milluk – one of her nephews was Hanis chief Doloos Jackson.

Legend has it that she showed Patrick Flanagan where coal was, and he opened the Newport mine. Flanagan was an early settler on the bay. He married Ella Winchester in 1856, and Libby worked for the couple for many years, and Flanagan built a small house for her and her husband, who was known as Mike Tinalon (although he might have been named Quinlon or Quinlin)*. Ella protected Libby. When soldiers came down to do periodic sweeps to search for ‘runaway Indians’ and forcibly remove them to the Coast Reservation, Ella would hide Libby in a flour barrel. There is an interesting and awful historical irony to this, as in 1856 Flanagan also had a contract to help remove south coast Indians to the reservation. He seems to have made Libby his one exception to his contract. When Libby became very old and infirm, the Wasson family took her in. When she died she was buried in the Wasson family cemetery up South Slough.

Libby appears to have been fondly remembered by many Native families, as both her English and Native names have been passed on a few times in some tribal families.


Beckham, Dow. 1995. Stars in the Dark: Coal Mines of Southwestern Oregon. Arago Books, Coos Bay OR.

Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Melville. 1932-34. Coos Ethnologic Notes, Notebooks 91-99, 101, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Archives, Seattle.


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The Thing That Hollers

Nok’élehe: the-person-that-halloos, the hollerer, the thing that hollers. The word is the same in both Hanis and Milluk, based on the verb k’el- or k’al-; to holler, to yell. The story of the nok’élehe might be one of the most-told stories recorded from Coos Bay and Coquille people – multiple versions were recorded from several storytellers, and the story is still referenced by elders to this day.

Some versions say the nok’élehe was encountered only once. One story says it appeared again in the 19th century. Most versions agree that it begins with a lone man, carving a canoe, that encounters the strange creature. All versions agree it hollered (hence the name), was powerful, and had a single horn. Almost all of the storytellers (save one, which we’ll get to in a bit), after learning of exotic creatures from white settlers, thought the Hollerer was a rhinoceros!

Annie Peterson told two versions of the story – one in English only to Jacobs in 1933 (see Jacobs notebook 93 page 64) and later in Milluk which he reprinted in “Coos Myth Texts”. She said that Coos country was hot long ago, and there were alligators and rhinos and those sort of creatures who disappeared long ago. Here is the version she told in English in 1933:

When they are in the woods they’d hear a person hollering, and if they’d answer this rhinoceros would come and toss a person on his horn till the person would be killed. The last one: a man was building a canoe near Ki’wé’et (the peninsula below Empire where the stave mill once was), and far back where he was building it he heard and saw this thing. He ran, the thing followed, he’d throw some of his clothes back, the thing would tear up and waste time with these fragments, then continue pursuing. At length he man got to his canoe. He tipped it over having no time to launch it. The rhino speared it and it got right on his head, and the being ran off holding the canoe over his face. The man ran on ahead and encountered an old blind woman. She advised him to get a heavy sharp hard tasseled [mud shrimp] digging pole and to stick it up the rear end of the rhino. No bow and arrow could kill him; that was the only way to kill him. So they all killed the rhino and they say this was the last one and they never saw or heard of another one again.”

Annie said this is why people did not answer a yell when they were out in the woods. Because the yell might not be coming from a human. It might be coming from some sort of deadly monster.

Annie’s niece Lottie Evanoff, and Coquille-Coos friends Nellie Wasson Freeman and Daisy Wasson Codding also knew versions of nok’élehe, which are very similar to Annie’s tale. The canoe maker was in the hills just above Second Creek, when he heard something hollering. He thought at first it was a person. He answered, and soon learned to his horror that the thing that hollered was not a person, but a large horned creature. He dodges it, hiding behind cedar trees because those are ‘soft’ (per Lottie) and the creature’s horn was most likely to get stuck in it. He fled north to Empire, where the Indians gathered together and its hide was too tough to pierce with arrows or spears. The only way they killed it was, as Lottie phrased it, “spear[ing] him thru the arse”. (The hollering monster isn’t the only thing killed this way in Coos stories – Night Rainbow Old Woman also killed a grizzly this way, with her digging stick made of ice).

Nellie and Daisy had heard this story from their Upper Coquille grandmother. They said that the old bay mouth was at Jarvis landing. When the outlet broke through where it is now, a horned creature came from the sea (not a serpent, however). Two men working at where Cammann road is now (above Second Creek) were chased by it, it speared their canoe. The two men ran and shouted, “Come out with your pitch! Come out with your spears! Come out with your sharp sticks!” People grabbed weapons, but found its hide to tough to pierce. As in the other versions, the nok’élehe had to be dispatched by stabbing it right up…well, you know. The people cut it up and burned its remains.

In an interview with Melville Jacobs in 1932 (notebook 92 page 65), Frank Drew claimed that his friend Jim Buchanan and a settler named “Dutch” Henry had encountered one of these nok’élehe:

There was a white man (Dutch Henry) who married an Indian girl. They lived in early days on Coos River of Coos Bay. The woman (a relative of Jim Buchanan) was far up the Coos River with Jim Buchanan, where Dutch had a cabin. Jim heard someone hollering up in the woods, which were burnt and open. The thing kept up a continuous hollering, nearing all the time. Jim suddenly saw, coming upriver, on a side hill, the thing coming and hollering. He told her about it coming. She told him it was a rhinoceros, to lose no time, get in a canoe, and get downriver to where Indians were. This they did, they paddled downriver to the village, told the people what they had seen and what caused their flight. Dutch next day went upriver with a lot of natives to see what was the matter. His cabin was a strong one. When he got to it it was gone. The rhinoceros must have wrecked the house.

This was the same thing that tackled a man who was making a canoe…”

Coquelle Thompson, an Upper Coquille man, told this story to Elizabeth Jacobs (reprinted in Pitch Woman and Other Stories, edited by William Seaburg) and JP Harrington. His story is similar to the others in several respects, except for the identity of the Hollering Thing. It was not a rhinoceros, but a giant quail! The quail’s topknot was the dangerous horn.

In Thompson’s version, there was a man from Kammasdan (the Lower Coquille village near Bullard’s Beach) had been working on a canoe. Coming from a hill, he thought he heard a woman hollering. He answered. It hollered again. He answered. As it got closer, it hollered again he realized it didn’t sound like a human after all. But it was too late – he saw a large winged creature, which was a quail. The Quail charged at him, but he dodged it and eventually the thing crashed into a tree. The man hit it in the head with a rock and fled. The next day, he returned to find the creature, dead. Its horn broke off. In the longer version in JP Harrington’s notes, the canoe carver took the horn for a weapon. Elizabeth Jacobs said Thompson called the creature dectl’e, although elsewhere recorded the usual word for quail in Upper Coquille is dvshlh’e (where v = ‘uh’ and lh stands in for the barred-l symbol). So almost the same word.

This story, retold by so many, was often used as a warning to remind people to be cautious when out alone in the woods. If you hear something yelling in the distance, don’t assume it is a human. It might not be. And you might not want that nonhuman creature, whatever it may be, to find you. And if it does – well, run fast and remember to dodge from the front of a tree at the last moment – so that maybe it will knock itself out or get trapped in the tree!


Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Elizabeth. 1935. Upper Coquille notes, Notebook 119, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle.

Jacobs, Melville. 1932-34. Coos Ethnologic Notes, Notebooks 91-99, 101, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Archives, Seattle.

Jacobs, Melville. 1939. Coos Narrative and Ethnologic Texts. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

Jacobs, Melville. 1940. Coos Myth Texts. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

Maloney, Alice and Joe Maloney. 1933. Coos ethnographic notes from Joe and Alice B. Maloney. Melville Jacobs papers, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle WA.

Seaburg, William, ed. 2007. Pitch Woman and Other Stories: The Oral Traditions of Coquelle Thompson, Upper Coquille Athabaskan Indian. University of Nebraska Press.

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“Stealing of Fire and Water”

Many tribes in the west have stories about how the First People had to acquire fire from a person or village of persons who held the only fire. Often, but not always, the hero is Coyote or another Trickster. There were three versions that were recorded among Coos people. In all of them, there is a headman of a village that has fire. No one else does. So, another band of people go there and gamble for fire. They play the ‘guessing game’, known variously around the west as the ‘bone game’, ‘hand game’, lahal. In Coos it is known as heye.* Here is a description of how it is played in many places. The Coos variation is instead of holding bones in the hands, the players held little sticks about one foot long, of which one had a mark.

The versions told by Coos storytellers basically follow the same arc, although the details vary: only one headman and village has fire. Others want it, so they can cook. They go to the village with fire, gamble for it, and when the game ends people run about, one grabs the fire and runs, and in the melee a bucket of water is kicked over, thus creating creeks and rain. Annie Peterson told a version where the Fifth Trickster, the People’s Father, gambled and won the fire (see pages 210 through 213 of Melville Jacobs’ “Coos Myth Texts”). Her niece Lottie told a short version in English to JP Harrington in 1942. She said that the people with the fire lived in mountains to the east and they were eagles. The man who actually stole the fire was Snail, who passed it to Dove who hid it in a willow tree, and “that’s why you get fire from willow roots.”

Jim Buchanan told a version to Leo Frachtenberg that he printed in his book “Coos Texts” as well as analyzed in his Hanis grammar. However, Buchanan’s version has a rather odd detail in the gambling scene. It begins normally enough. There are two ‘cradles’ on the ground. The buckskin laid on the ground where the counter sticks were laid were called in Coos a ‘cradle’, piihl or bi’ihl. Then, one headman says to the other that he has knew shinny sticks and balls, while his are old. Then they proceed to play with shinny sticks (nauhin) instead of the usual foot long taqsai sticks. In his grammar, Frachtenberg kept the translation of ‘shinny stick’, but he noted that Buchanan was mistaken in that word use and he should have used the words associated with the guessing game. Jarold Ramsey reprinted this story in “Coyote Was Going There” under the title “How the Coos People Discovered Fire” and he incorporated Frachtenberg’s changes into the text – he removed any reference to shinny from the story.

I have thought about this for awhile, and the more I think about it, the less I think Frachtenberg was correct – that Buchanan made an error in word choice. I think that as part of the otherworldliness of the story, the Sky Chief and Earth Chief may have used shinny sticks and shinny balls in the guessing game of heye, rather than the usual taqsai.

Than last night it suddenly dawned on me while I was talking about the story with my husband. I think Frachtenberg forgot what Jim Buchanan had told him about the ancient pre-human myth age, the time frame in which this story was set. Buchanan once told him that the ‘first people’ (iilahiix me or the iilaháchomiix me, which literally means the “first people” or “before people”) were strong and about nine feet tall. For beings that tall, shinny sticks could easily stand in for the hand-held gambling sticks that normal human beings use to play heye.

So now I think Buchanan perfectly well knew what he was doing and Frachtenberg was wrong in his assumption. I think Buchanan chose the word nauhin for shinny club in the heye scene quite deliberately – it reminds the audience that this story is indeed from the ancient pre-human times, when those giants could play heye with shinny clubs instead of our contemporary foot-long taqsai (or 3 to 4 inch long bones as many other tribes use to play).

*I haven’t found yet the word for it in Siuslaw, but the verb for ‘to gamble’ is hlawat, and a gambler is hlawat’yauch and the word for the game is probably also derived from the verb.


Frachtenberg, Leo J. 1909. Coos Fieldnotes. Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Frachtenberg, Leo J. 1913. Coos Texts. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, no. 1. New York.

Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Melville. 1940. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

Ramsey, Jarold, ed. 1977. Coyote Was Going There: Indian Literature of the Oregon Country. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

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