Indigenous place names are important. In part they reflect a people’s relationship to their land, its features, its history and mythology. I don’t think anyone has yet compiled all the names that survived for the sloughs of Coos Bay, so here they are.
SOUTH SLOUGH REGION
South Slough itself is Witl’ich, which means ‘going over place’ in both Hanis and Milluk. It is derived from the verb witl’– to go over a hill or divide. Lottie Evanoff also referred to South Slough in Hanis as ya’aixink’ich. Ya’ai means another or other, xin- means to be on top, -ich is a locative marker. I don’t know what the k’- is and it is possible that the root in there is not xin- but xink’– and I haven’t found such a word in my wordlist.
Tliyamanii is the Milluk name for the Winchester arm at the head of South Slough. Opposite that is Chá’tsiyam (Sengstacken arm). No etymology given for either of these names.
The indigenous name of Joe Ney slough is in doubt. Harrington asked a couple of people about the name, Lottie volunteered she thought the name was Halch-jinuu. Then Lottie claimed she did not know the etymology – however, it clearly shares the same root as the name for Mill Slough/Blossom Gulch creek (which we’ll get to soon) which she did give an etymology for. It comes from the verb halch which means to clean oneself (after toileting), to wipe the crack. Was Lottie teasing Harrington by making up a name? I don’t know. Lottie did not have a habit of that – at one point Harrington badgered her no end about the name for the Graveyard Point area on Coos River, and she never did break down and give him a name (she said she could not recall). Harrington convinced himself that site was Takimiya (he was wrong as it turns out, Takimiya is Umpqua Eden). So making that sort of joke does not strike me as Lottie’s style. And names with a scatalogical or sexual connotation are not unheard of in western Oregon. Still, it is a little odd. Also odd is the –jinuu suffix. That has turned up only one other place I know of – in one of the variations on the name for Big Creek north of Yachats (menkchinuu, clubbing-place, from the verb menk- to club) & I do not know the meaning of that affix.
North Slough was usually referred to as Ch’liya’ich or Ch’hliyahaich. Both versions derived from the Hanis verb ch’hl-to move, so this slough’s name refers to moving something. Jim Buchanan gave the name a twist with Tlochiya, derived from tl’eich-to go out, in reference to story of a whale that once went out of that creek. Lottie said she heard of abandoned canoes in lower North Slough. “Grandma Baker told me that hidden in the tall tules [near the] mouth of North Slough on the sandhill (oceanward) side of N Slough were discovered by her on passing a number of canoes, all moss-grown, evidently hidden there by the Coos Inds as they were driven out of their country, thinking to return. She did not molest them. In the olden time canoes, etc, were never stolen or molested.”
There is no name I have found for all of Haynes Inlet, but Larson and Palouse have their own names. Larson Slough, and perhaps the village there as well, was called Ha’lais. One of the Coos Bay signers of the 1855 Treaty was identified as Hallice so I think he came from Larson. The name might derive from the verb ha’l(a)– to enter a canoe. Jim Buchanan said the Baltiyasa (dangerous people drived out of Coos Bay long ago) lived there.
Palouse Creek was known as Qetldi’ye, meaning ‘getting longer’. Unfortunately no one mentioned why it was called this.
Pony Slough itself was called Tltes or Hldes. Buchanan said there was a village on Pony Slough called Hlwahich, meaning cattail place. There are still some pretty good cattail patches in Pony Slough.
EAST AND UPPER BAY
Going up the east bay is Kentuck Slough, which was called Qalatl. In Jim Buchanan’s telling, a hill on Kentuck Slough was the only place to ‘float’ during the great flood (in other tellings this place was Glasgow).
Willanch Slough is Wi’lench, Wule’ench which means ‘good weather place’, after the sheltered east bay valley up the slough. There was a story that long ago there was a hollering monster that lived up that valley and it would attack and eat people. If it hollered, people had to get out of there. Then there was a huge forest fire and the monster died. The people found its head. After that, it was safe to go there.
Mill Slough today is an invisible slough today; it was tidegated and buried decades ago. Blossom Gulch Creek is at the head of it. Lottie said the name of this slough was Halch, the same root as Joe Ney Slough’s supposed name. In spite of the name, it was at one time a nice slough. Lottie said ‘Used to be swimming hole with sandy bottom in slough’. Later it was full of logs and debris from a sawmill.
Coalbank slough was known in Hanis and Milluk as Qaltat’.
Catching Slough is Qatl’iixas.
Isthmus Slough was pronounced Kusu or Gusu, derived from the Hanis and Milluk word kuukwis meaning ‘south’.
I haven’t found any names for upper sloughs like Shinglehouse, Ross and Davis. Of Shinglehouse Slough, however, Lottie once said there were some juicy and wonderful black huckleberries that grew at the mouth of this slough.