I’ve written a post about Cook’s chasm before, here. It was the place where they rare blue clay paint was found. I want to write about some Coos and Siuslaw names of the Yachats region, but there is enough lore around Cook’s chasm that I wanted to write about it separately.
Since it is north of tsi’imahl (Tenmile Creek/Stonefield wayside) Cook’s chasm is within Alsea territory. Since the Siuslaw are neighbors they were probably already familiar with the lore of the place, but during the Yachats internment years the Coos Bay people gave it their own name and learned the Alsea stories about the place.
The Hanis Coos people named the chasm chils haladich, or chils ha’ladiich. This is one of those funny risque names, for in Hanis it means something like ‘penis going in place’ or ‘penis ditch place’. Chils is Hanis for penis (and there is a bit of a joke inside that word, because it is derived from the verb chil- meaning ‘to reach out’.) The 2nd word doesn’t mean ‘go in’ so much as it refers to a ditch. According to Lottie Evanoff, it comes from the ha’la’at, meaning a running ditch. Frank Drew translated the name into the Siuslaw language as shaya qa’ich. I’ve never found the Alsea name for Cook’s chasm, so I don’t know if the Coos translated the Alsea name into Hanis or if someone with an interesting sense of humor coined the term soon after arriving at Yachats.
Both Frank Drew and Lottie Evanoff knew of a legend attached to this place. They both told a couple of different versions of the story (to Melville Jacobs in 1932 and Harrington in 1942) but the stories follow more or less the same theme.
The chasm was actually the entrance of a tunnel that went 3 or 4 miles inland. Driftwood was tossed through that tunnel, sometimes found in the hills behind Perpetua. It was a place that sea serpents used to go from the sea to the hills to hunt elks.
It was also, they say, the site of an attempted murder. Depending on the version, one or two men wanted revenge upon another, over jealousy for the affections of a woman. One story specifies they were all from the nearby Yachats village. They were all traveling along over the chasm when they shoved this man down in it. He fell, and crawled along the tunnel. He could see stars over head. For 4 days he crawled through this tunnel. Finally he emerged back in the hills. He returned home to find his parents and siblings crying – they thought he had died. They were overjoyed to see him again. And that is where the story ends.
Edit: The path around Cape Perpetua and Cook’s chasm was dangerous too. Lottie Evanoff recalled that here were footholes chopped into the cliff at the head of the chasm. She was afraid of slipping there, but some brave young people jumped over it.
Andrew Chase wrote about the dangerous crossing along the coast at Perpetua on a visit to the Alsea subagency in 1868:
One of our main objects in visiting the Alsea reserve was to make the ascent of Cape Perpetua. We were in hopes that we might be able to see Mary’s Peak, a mountain in the interior, which it was desirable to see for purposes connected to our survey. We then, on the third day of our visit, started out for the ascent of the cape. Mounted on ponies and accompanied by Mr. Collins and four or five Indians, we climbed the steep trail which led up from the beach to the sea face of the cape; finally we came to a place where the trail led over the bare rock. We were then at least 500 feet above the beach. The rock from the trail sloped off at a sharp pitch, ending in a sheer precipice; the trail was a mere narrow track, barely sufficient for the horses’ feet. The slightest misstep or stumble would send both horse and rider tumbling down on the foam- covered rocks 500 feet below us. To add to our sense of danger a strong wind was blowing. Collins advised us to dismount, which I for one gladly did. He added that on one occasion, some years since, a mail rider and horse had been lost at this point by falling over the precipice.