The Sagandas people

So in the previous post I mentioned the place name Baltiasa and its connection to the mysterious Sagandas people. There are few mentions of them, and only two recorded stories. The oldest story was recorded by Henry Hull St. Clair in 1906 in his work with James Buchanan. It was reprinted in Leo Frachtenberg’s Coos Texts. In this story he menions a ‘mean’ people with some unusual abilities who lived in a village called Baltiasa (in 1932, Buchanan listed this village as somewhere west of Glasgow). It was said these people could swim all the way across the bay underwater and crawl out like a snake; float stones on the water, and owned large stone pots. These mean people were eventually driven out of Coos Bay. They fled on 2 rafts, one going north and one south. Buchanan never names these people Sagandahs, but this story sounds like other mentions of them, so I assume the story is related.

In 1933, Annie Miner Peterson told the story of the Sagandas people to Melville Jacobs. Her version is a little different from Buchanan’s. In this one, the Sagandas people are a band of Milluk speaking people living somewhere on Coos Bay. A Sagandas man passes through Chetco to visit his mother’s relatives at Crescent City; and there he kills a mean and wealthy Chetco chief. The Sagandas are given one year to raise the blood price to pay for this killing. They are unable to do so, and they flee. Eventually they land in another place. Then Annie says they went to the land of the ‘braided hair people, which she interpreted as meaning the land of Japan, and that a Milluk man who worked on a sailing ship met an aged Sagandas man who was the last who still spoke the Milluk language. Melville Jacobs later interpreted this tale as meaning that the Milluk sailor did indeed meet a Milluk man, but somewhere on Vancouver Island or elsewhere along the coast of BC or southern Alaska.

Then in 1942, John P. Harrington asked Frank Drew (who had been good friends with Buchanan) and Lottie Evanoff (Annie Peterson’s niece) about the Sagandas. Lottie had heard that they were a people driven out long ago from both Glasgow (site of Hanis village Kdet) and from the Siuslaw and became the Japanese people. Some went north and some went south, when they were driven away from here (which tracks with the story Buchanan told. When Lottie had visited Crescent City she had seen some large people there. So I suppose in her mind she associated the Sagandas as an ancestor to some of the California people.

I have wondered what the origin of these stories are. Was there once a group of people driven away from Coos Bay, or Siuslaw? Were the local people or, possibly, is it a memory of when the first Athabaskan speaking peoples came south over a millenia ago, and is a story of culture clash and migration? Or are these wholly mythological stories? There is not way to know but it does make me wonder.

Jim Buchanan’s story of the Sagandas, as recorded by Henry Hull St Clair:

There was a village in Coos Bay they named Baltiasa. They lived in the ground, they lived way in the ground. They were big, tall Indians. They had long fish poles. Whenever they caught a fish, they would swing it ashore no matter how large a fish it was.

So when they play, they go down to the water and dive from the edge of the water. They would dive and go clean across the river and crawl ashore like a snake. They could dive about the distance of one mile, and they would come back the same way. They made pots out of stones. They also floated big stones. They talked up above (to Heaven). That’s the reason that the rock never sinks. If you don’t talk when you put a rock in the water, it will sink. He takes a big rock and puts it on top of his head and walks around under the water. That’s the way they got their oysters. That’s what they lived on. When they put a rock on the water, they can stand on top of it. The rock never sinks.

It makes no odds, they could make small feather float and stand on top of it, and it never sinks. They take the carbuncles off of trees and make hats out of them. They take some great big hard bones and make a sort of knife out of them. So they wore these carbuncle hats. So they wore these carbuncle hats. So they take these bone knives and club one another over the head with them. They could not hurt one another. That’s they way they had of practising.

Those Indians were mean. All the rest of the Indians were afraid of them. It made no odds how many went by that way, there would be just so many of these fellows following them. Then they would abuse those people. So the rest of the Indians got so they didn’t want them. So they held a big council. They were going to drive them away. So they did so. So they made two rafts. So they went down the river. They watched them from both sides. They followed them from behind. They were shooting at them with arrows. They got down to the bar. They watched them. And the current took the raft out over the bar. When they got outside, they dropped anchor awhile. They were pouring out a lot of seal oil into the ocean, and the ocean got perfectly smooth. There was no wind. So it got night, and they divided. One of the rafts went north and the other went south.

One of the rafts was made lightning like (kind of blaze). That was the one that went north. But that’s all they know about them. They don’t know where they went to.

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About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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4 Responses to The Sagandas people

  1. Pingback: Baltiasa: of the Sea « Shichils's Blog

  2. Eric B says:

    This version of the Baltiasa story differs from the Coos Texts and the Columbia University versions in some details, so is it your own translation of st clairs notes or is it a translation done by someone else? In particular I have been trying to figure out what the “carbuncle hats” were, since the word translated as “carbuncle” in Coos Texts is lowidza whereas the word in the vocabulary section is lowitsil. In a later correction, Frachtenburg notes that lowidza shall be read as lowitsil, but if theres more to it Id like to know. In your version, its translated as tree carbunkles. A tree carbuncle is a burl, and burlwood is extremely tough material prized for mallets in addition to decorating luxury cars and furniture. A burlwood hat would be very tough. The story seems to describe fencing, though swords and sword fighting were supposedly unknown in the new world. The nearest sword culture would have been Japan.
    Another connection to Japan can possibly be found in a Tillamook legend(Journal of American Folklore volume 2 1898 Franz Boas 2. THE JOURNEY ACROSS THE OCEAN) where 5 brothers spot what they think is a dead whale but turns out to be the ship of the men from the other side of the ocean who kidnap 4 of the brothers. Seeking revenge, the remaining brother travels with a group of friends to the other side of the ocean and… “They found a kind of wood which they did not know. It looked like reed, but was as tall as a tree.” Bamboo grew in southern Mexico, and in Kentucky, but the nearest Bamboo across the ocean would have been the northernmost island of Japan.
    The ancient Japanese are not supposed to have had levitation technology, traveled across the ocean in lightning rafts, lived in deep underground houses, and they weren’t all that tall, but I think there is more to this legend than mere invention.

  3. shichils says:

    For ‘carbuncle’ St Clair wrote it Luwī´dza and Frachtenberg wrote it Lōwī´tsîl. The translation above is actually St Clair’s free translation. Interestingly, as I look at St Clair’s Hanis transcription and transcription as published in Frachtenberg’s Coos Texts, the detail about the ‘carbuncle’ being tree burls is not there. The Hanis text merely states they had carbuncle hats. The use of carbuncle confuses me, as it means either ugly skin sore/boil or a precious red stone, especially those cut in a cabochon. I have retranslated some of our stories, but not this one. Perhaps I ought to take a stab at it (although the next one I plan on working on is ‘Revenge of the Sky People’)

    One possibility – that would jibe with Jacobs’ interpretation of Sagandas being Indians from the far Northwest like BC (comes up in “Badger and Coyote Were Neighbors, ed. by Seaburg an Amoss), perhaps ‘carbuncle’ tries to describe their hats. The northern people’s basket hats of cedar bark are quite different than our people’s traditional basket caps.

    A few of our people have thought it might even refer to Polynesians (who were also great sea-farers). There are stories of a Russian ship that wrecked near Tillamook. Yes, the Sagandas stories may refer to contact or contacts with some people that were rather unfriendly, but one could make an argument for contact with lost Russians, Japanese, Chinese, Haidas and probably others. There has been some interesting archaeology done in Tillamook country, but so many of our people’s sites were destroyed long ago (dug for fill, bulldozed and plowed up.)

    • Eric B says:

      So, most likely they were just ugly, bulbous hats. People have always liked wearing ugly hats, it seems.

      Is the “loud talking” or “talking to heaven” (depending on the translation) that the Baltiasa did when levitating stones related to the loud language of Crow and Thunderbird?

      The Baltiasa legend reminds me of the supposed Paiute legend of the Hav-Musuvs. I’m not sure what to make of that story since it was published in a paranormal magazine. The closest word to hav-musuv I can find in the language is ha-muse meaning “star”, which is pretty suspicious. But, it’s not all that dissimilar from this story.

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