Now that the Cape Arago lighthouse land has returned to the tribes’ ownership, I thought I would repost this article from about 3 years ago about the village there. I’ve added in a little bit of new information.
The People of the Lighthouse Village
Now that Chief’s Island has been returned to the ownership of the tribes, I thought I would write what little is known about the people who once lived there. From what limited archaeological research has been done there, it seems that Gregory Point was occupied from about 500 AD until the early 19th century. Apparently they used Sunset Bay as a landing for their canoes, and walked a short trail up to the village.i
It was one of the Milluk speaking villages, and tradition has it that the headman of the village lived on the island. The name of the village was Baldich (pronounced like BALL–ditch) in Hanis and Baldicha in Milluk, and the root of the word in both languages is the same as the root of the word for ‘ocean’ in Hanis and Milluk (baldimis). ii It also means ‘west’ and ‘on the coast’ in Hanis; whether or not the meaning is the same in Milluk is unclear as, so far, I’ve been unable to locate the word for ‘west’ in any of the surviving Milluk vocabularies.
Lottie Evanoff said that the Baldicha villagers did not travel as much as people from other villages, that they tended to keep to themselves.iii Many Hanis, and some South Slough Milluk, had upriver fishing sites on the upper forks of Coos River, and would sometimes hunt deer and elk in the surrounding hills. But the Baldicha people were able to get much of their food locally – hunting seals and sea lions, as well as shell fish, rock fish and salmon. Doubtless, salal and black huckleberry were common on Cape Arago then as now. There used to be a camas patch near Cape Aragoiv
There is one myth that comes down to us that is set at Gregory Point. It is “The rock point person lost his good luck thing”, the first story in Jacobs’ Coos Myth Texts. A poor man fishes from the rocks near the point, and one day catches a talking fish which becomes his tlxinax, his good luck power. He becomes wealthy, but then loses his luck and wealth when he gives in to his wife’s requests to ask the fish for an exorbitant amount of goods.
Annie Peterson said Coos Bay Indians would make a sport of riding breakers and waves in small canoes – not entirely unlike a local version of surfing. This sport was especially popular with the Baldicha people, and they played it at Sunset Bay.v She also called the lighthouse villagers baldiya k’a, meaning ocean shore people; baldiya meaning ocean-shore, and k’a is Milluk for person or people (although this term could be used for any coastal-dwelling people, not exclusively the people of Baldicha village).
The occupation of Baldicha came to an abrupt and tragic end some time in the middle 19th century. Rogue River Indians attacked and killed all of the Baldicha people, except for an Upper Coquille woman named Mashəgáshə, who was married to the village chief, and her child. She happened to be visiting her relatives on the Coquille River at the time of the attack.vi
Lottie Evanoff told how other Coos Bay people learned of the massacre- she said ‘a nameless woman sensed something was going on [she found an] undressed a Rogue River man & put his clothes on & threw the body [of the dead Rogue River man] down the bluff. She notified the people at Empire at slack water and the Empire people went down to lighthouse’. (Harrington 24:87a)
Unfortunately, no one ever mentioned why the Indians from Rogue River would utterly destroy the Baldicha village, not even a hint as to possible motives. A feud? Accusations of betrayal or witchcraft? A rejected suitor? We do not know. I have long thought it odd that Lottie Evanoff, Annie Peterson, Jim Buchanan and others were so reticent on that particular subject. Perhaps their elders did not wish to speak of such a painful subject, and so the story was lost in a generation. Now we shall never know exactly what happened.
Annie Peterson did talk a bit about massacred villages in general. She told a story that she said was long ago history, “The People Who were Killed Up the Bay” (see Coos Narrative and Ethnologic Texts, page 35-38). It was not about the lighthouse village, but about a Hanis village somewhere upriver. It is of interest as it is one of the few mentions of this kind of intertribal warfare. In this story, because the daughter of the village chief refused to marry, and the spurned suitor plotted to massacre the village. The daughter was clever, she saw spies watching the village and, Cassandra-like, warned her village of immanent attack she was ignored. She hid her baby brother shortly before she was kidnapped by the enemy and survived the massacre. Soon she escaped, rescued her infant brother, and married another chief who pledged to avenge her. Her new husband’s people mount a successful attack and the young woman is thus avenged. (In an interesting aside, her husband’s people use a method rather reminiscent of a “Trojan canoe” – they approach the enemy village in a canoe disguised as a whale). Annie’s comment on the story was:
It is only a chief who is thus offended and who can get his village people to go out and attack thus. Even women of his village go along, but keep out as the fighting commences. Rarely do they rush in at daytime, they usually rush in when the sleepers are most stupid with sleep. They kill everybody, unless they keep a girl or two they want, and burn the village. No one touches the village, or approaches it, for ten years… Not until then will a survivor or anyone go there and step there for ten years, under penalty of death. Only a survivor may step there without suffering the death penalty. They watch it and let only a survivor, one who belongs there, return to it, after the 10 year limit.vii
Here then, could possibly be one reason the old time Indians said little about the fate of Baldicha village – after the massacre, it became a taboo place for many years.
Within ten years of white settlement of Coos Bay, the first of three lighthouses were constructed on chief’s island. For a time also, on a beach below the island cliffs there was a Coast Guard Lifesaving station. The third and current lighthouse will not last due to the powerful forces of erosion.
Since then, tribal members been drawn to this beautiful place. Since 1950, tribal members have erected memorial tombstones to relatives there, and have held memorial services. For many years, it has also been the site of the annual Salmon Ceremony and is still visited for returning fish bones to the water and for dances.
It was the site of a tragedy long ago. Today it is a draw to tribal members, a place of beauty and remembrance.
iDouthit, Nathan. 1999. A Guide to Oregon South Coast History: Traveling the Jedediah Smith Trail. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis OR. p. 119.
iiJacobs, Melville. 1932-1934. Coos Ethnologic Notes & Texts. University of Washington archives. Notebook 92:150
iiiHarrington, John Peabody. 1942. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.
iv1932-1934. Coos Ethnologic Notes & Texts. University of Washington archives. Maloney notes.
v Jacobs, Melville. 1932-1934. Coos Ethnologic Notes & Texts. University of Washington archives. Notebook95:75
viHarrington 24:982a; Jacobs 100:120
viiJacobs, Melville. 1932-1934. Coos Ethnologic Notes & Texts. University of Washington archives. Notebook 100:142-144