There was a story in The Oregonian last month about a shrieking creature in a swamp on the Umatilla Reservation that some believed was a bigfoot. It made me think about the legends of giants among the Coos people. But there is a confusion of names for this giant, and it sometimes seem like all the names refer to the same creature, or possibly different-but-related creatures.
Also the Coos ‘bigfoot’ is not quite like the popular modern legend. They do agree that the creature is tall (depending on the description, from 7 to 12 feet tall), but they are never described as hairy or foul-smelling. However, they do make high pitched noises.
I think it best to let the original storytellers (Annie Peterson, Frank Drew, Tom Hollis and Lottie Evanoff) to first tell the stories themselves:
Milluk nuk’wíina-k’á, Hanis nok’wíine’mé – timber man (from nuk’wiin, forest in Hanis and Milluk, and the word for person which is k’a and me in Milluk and Hanis). Is a kind of dream dreamed by the mot’édon [a kind of shaman] from the time he’s a boy. The mot’édon calls on him for help-such as in finding a lost object. They are tall giants, 7 foot high, look like persons, dressed in furs. A nok’wíine’mé was caught stealing fish from a canoe. Up Coos River people set to watch. They found him packing salmon from a canoe at night-his fingers were strong. They caught him, he made no effort to fight back, he gave up. They put him in a house, told him to pay for the fish he stole, then he made a queer noise kuxuxuxu (falsetto) – so he talked to his partner ‘timber man’ in the woods, and his partner answered the same way. This partner fetched the money for the stolen salmon, then he took it and said, “You can do anything with this. This is a human bone. You can point it at anyone you are mad at and it will poison and kill this person’. When Mrs. P was about 7, people who had lost all their money at Yaquina Bay hired a mot’edon woman. She said, “I’ll come this evening and let you know.” She took her bow and arrow, pointed with it, shot it. It was just a small bow used by this mot’edon woman for power shooting. She told them, Tomorrow about noon you will hear a person shoot himself with a gun. Then at his funeral when they bury him you will see your money put there.” This is all Mrs. P knows of this episode. The money they probably left there with the dead person. (Annie Miner Peterson, Jacobs 93:23-24)
There is another kind of being, not an eshon, that is a giant, human, called qedlógwosots, [long pouch] giant people. Buchanan said he saw them long ago, down at Coos Bay. These giants do no harm, nor no good. Except as follows. Once, the people were out fishing in the river for salmon at night. The canoes, left at the landing with fish in. Next A. M. the fish were nearly all gone. They suspected vandals. Next night, more fishing, more fish missing the following A.M. Finally one night they stationed a watchman. Sure enough, he saw something coming from the woods. It wasn’t a person, it was a person 7-8-9 feet high, making right for the canoe. His fingers were so long he ran his fingers thru the gills. When his fingers were all full of fish there were hardly any more fish left in the canoe. The watchmen went up and fought with him, and hollered for help. You can only weaken such a giant by grabbing his testicles. The others came out, and when they grabbed his testicles he at least was helpless. They made him put back all the fish in the canoe, and when the fish slid off his fingers the canoe was half filled with fish. They let him go and he never came back.
There is no knowledge of whether another appearance of a qetlogwosots, “long pouch” was of the same one, or of another of his family or tribe.
The qedlogwosots live on fish along streams. They don’t scare people. Only eshon scare persons. (Frank Drew: J91:103-104)
So it looks like Annie and Frank were telling versions of the same story – a giant stealing fish from a camp up Coos River, even though they used different terms (‘timber man’ and ‘long pouch’) to describe them.
But there are more stories of meetings with giants…
Here is a power greater than any weapon: it is a kind of tl’xí’nex [a power of luck or fortune]. It is obtained from a shíihlwaya person (a mountain Giant 8 to 12 ft high) When he talks his voice is like a red woodpecker’s voice, though he has the form of a person. This weapon is called kyuukyuu “pointing pointing”. This weapon – when the shiihlwaya people all got them – there were lots of these giant people who could be heard out in the mountains – nobody knows how they live-this weapon was given to a Coos long time ago from a shiihlwaya. The shiihlwaya are wealthy people, if you hold their enormously long pubic hair they just are so weak then that you can get anything from them. He got his weapon from them. The shiihlwaya people use a dead shiihlwaya person’s wrist bone, but larger than a human’s wristbone. The shiihlwaya uses that for a weapon – it has tremendous power. He just points with it, the victim just coughs up blood, and dies. This Coos thus got this bone, and had a sort of tl’xi’nex with it. The shiihlwaya warned him, “Don’t point it towards your Coos less you kill them all. Cache it in the mts., pointing opposite away from the Coos settlements, so that it do no harm.” He took it, and instead of doing as he was told, he talk it near home, and stored it accidentally pointing towards his own house, and his family dies right away, almost. (Frank Drew Jacobs 92:63-64)
There was a kind of man, a big white man, he’s tattooed all over. They called him tcâxti:úwE kwî´sEts [short pouch]. You could not see him. He went around in the night or in the day time. They say he made a kind of gun. He made it out of a forearm or leg bone. They called the gun kyuuwakyuu [pointing pointing]. He would take this gun, which he always carried sidewise; he packed it on his side. He would point it at something and it would kill it without any noise or shooting. There are all kinds of stories about that kind of man. (Tom Hollis, St Clair p 243)
Tom Hollis seems to be retelling a very similar story to Frank’s about the giant bone ‘pointing pointing’ weapon, although the description of the giant being white and heavily tattooed is unique to Tom Hollis.*
There were also beliefs about obtaining luck power from the Giants:
If you go thru the woods and find long hair 8 or 10 feet long, hanging from bushes, you wrap it up, take it home, and preserve it too. They call this (Milluk) shíihlwaya do hámis, giant man’s hair.
Sometimes hunters in traveling take sand from a fresh grave they encounter in the woods. Mrs. P thinks it is where a panther buried food. Anyhow, if a hunter sees such a grave out in the woods, he takes a little of the fresh sand from the top of the grave – from what they call Milluk shíihlwaya do éq; Hanis shíihlwaya he éqe = Giant Man’s Dead One. They take home a specimen of the sand in a buckskin receptacle they may make for it, and keep it in that.
Mrs. P thinks that misxúuwi [luck] are only thought lucky to their finders; when the finder dies his misxúuwi are burned like all his property. Annie Miner Peterson Jacobs 93:50)
Lottie Evanoff called the giants hliishwaya, which I suspect was her misremembering of shiihlwaya. She said they were occasionally seen at Lakeside and that they wore deer hides with the horns on for a hat. Tall white men were also called “hliishwaya”. (Lottie Evanoff,Harrington 24:663a)
shiihlwaya versus hliishwaya; long pouch, short pouch, timber-man…I think (in spite of the inconsistent descriptions) are all the same being.
There is another creature of the woods, the eshon, which is different from these giants. The eshon were regarded as much more dangerous, but I’ll talk about them in the next post.
*Tom Hollis was Lottie’s mother’s first cousin. He did work briefly as a language consultant with Harry Hull St Clair in 1903. He was also something of a character – reputed to be stingy, and convicted of robbing the Cape Arago lighthouse keeper and so he spent a few years in jail.
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.