Munsel Lake, its neighboring lakes, and strange creatures…

Slowly working through Harrington’s notes for the UC Davis Harrington project, I come across tidbits of curious stories and place names.  Here is one about ‘hairseals’ (what JPH references in his notes are what we usually just call seals, harbor seals.  He used the term ‘hair seal’ to distinguish them from another species, the furseal):

Harrington 23:365a:  Frank [Drew]: Munsel Lake is the deepest of all the lakes in this country, 75 ft deep!  Years ago the Inds. saw 2 animals resembling hairseals there sunning themselves on a snag.  And upon close observation the tips of their noses were red.

Now, this jogged my memory a bit.  There are lots of stories about strange animals – either those that are quite different, or those animals that look almost like something familiar, and yet aren’t – either because there is something odd about their appearance, or because they appear in a strange place.

Lottie Evanoff told a story she said her father Chief Doloos Jackson told her about strange two strange sea lions once found at Smith’s Basin, which is a large flat along the shore of the South Fork Coos River just above Dellwood (From Maloney notes, compiled in Melville Jacobs notes, UW Washington library):

Long ago, some South Slough Indians went up Millicoma (points towards S Coos River region). Traveled in canoes. Saw sea lion there. “Now we can eat.”

 They kill & eat sea lion except for 2 young men.

 Went to sleep, changed into sea lions, except for those 2 men who didn’t eat any.

 This is the place they call Basin (Smith Basin) – round rock still show where they drink & eat.

Even more frequently seen than seals and sea lions of strange and uncertain provenance were sea serpents.  Not only did they live in the sea, but they were frequently seen in lakes and creeks.  Cut Creek, between the Coquille River & Whiskey Run, was supposed to have once had a small serpent living in it.

Tracks of sea serpents were often seen in the sand dunes as well, travelling between dune lakes and the sea.

Harrington 23:360b = Frank [Drew]– the Inds claim that pretty near every lake in this region has some kind of animal living in it.

An Indian named Alec Jefferson (he was Jeff Harney’s ½ bro he was Martha Johnson’s uncle) he once visited Frank at Frank’s homestead on Sutton Ck telling Frank that on arrival that he had noticed tracks as if of a serpent as he came by Clear Lake & followed it he followed it ca ½ mile toward the ocean, (ie towards the west) & on examining the track he saw slime.

 Harrington 23:361a-And by the ocean it had chewed up all the common-sandhill-huckleberries in a circle, app. Making a bed for himself there.

And not only Alec Jefferson saw this snake’s track but my youngest brother in law Hæ´sat Barney, about a year later describing the track just the same. He described the track as big & wide, as if the snake were big & heavy. It must be that that animal periodically leaves that lake (Clear Lake)

The Hanis word usually used for sea serpent is k’ilmiyawach, which is also supposed to mean nephew.  Curiously, though, the word k’ilmiyawach only appears in conjunction with the sea serpent, and never just ‘nephew’.  Jim Buchanan told a story of a girl who befriended a sea serpent and it became her spirit power (See “The Girl and Her Pet, Coos Texts, page 85); and Buchanan titled it tewitech hechit’ – literally nephew myth, where tewitech (or dewitech) is the more usual term seen for ‘nephew’.

In Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua, t’ahdii is the term for nephew-son-of-brother and sea serpent.  (hliishii is nephew, son of sister).

In both Hanis and Siuslaw, addressing the serpent as ‘nephew’ is regarded as a polite term, and also references stories like Jim Buchanan told.  (Kind of similar to how we referred to black bear as ‘young lady’, harking back to a story of a young woman who turned into a bear – this story is also found in Coos Texts).

A word that turned up in Frachtenberg’s work with Buchanan was the word qaskiiwas, which Frachtenberg glossed as ‘serpent’ (and to make it more complicated, was actually from work St Clair did with Buchanan, and was incorporated into Frachtenberg’s work.  He did not seem to recheck it).  In the instances qaskiiwas appears, it is referring to serpents seen swimming in the water.  I have a feeling this was another word to refer to the sea serpent.  Lottie Evanoff commented that there was another word that referred to the sea serpents other than ‘nephew’ but she was unable to recall it.  I think qaskiiwas is that word.

There are entirely separate words for snake – as in our local and common garter snake.  In Hanis, it is xyuuwayas; Milluk xwayas, and Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua it is hlchiixa.  No special words for rattlesnake – usually found more inland and/or south from our corner of the world – was recalled, though some Coos speakers felt there had been a special word for it, it had just been forgotten.

So, I’ll apologize now for this rambling post.  We’ve wandered from sealions-that-aren’t-quite-sealions, to sea serpents, to snakes, from Munsel Lake to Cut Creek and back around again.  Or something.  But sometimes my brain makes odd connections.  And certainly there are interesting connections between place, mythological creatures, and actual creatures in our myths and history.  It has been a lot of fun studying language and our mythis – it is a richer heritage than I ever realized before.

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About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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