‘Kalawatset’, Lower Umpqua – every name but their own

Nineteenth century accounts of the Lower Umpqua people often refer to them as Kalawatset, Kelawatset, Kilawashat and a few other spelling variants.  It seems to go back to Lewis & Clark who wrote down Tillamook and Clatsop names for tribes down the coast.  From them we get She-a-stuck-le for Siuslaw and Kelawatset for the Lower Umpqua.

From Harrington’s interview with Tillamook elder Louis Fuller, he said Tillamooks called the Siuslaw sháyistqel and the Lower Umpqua as q’elwats.  He said in the Tillamook language q’el meant ‘to tie’ and wats = narrow waisted.  He offered no explanation of why the Lower Umpquas may have been referred to as to-tie-narrow-waisted but the name is similar to the variations of Kelawatset favored by several generations of non-Indian chroniclers (indeed, one still finds the name working its way into contemporary books).  Perhaps the most unusual appearance of the name is in the species name for an Umpqua chub, Oregonichthys kalawaseti.

‘Umpqua’ is not a Lower Umpqua word either.  It traces back to the unrelated Athabaskan-speaking Upper Umpqua people, and originally is supposed to have referred to a particular place somewhere along the river – now it is the whole river’s name.  (Lower Umpqua people called the river iktatuu, meaning roughly ‘the big one’).

Rarely does one see the Lower Umpqua people’s indigenous name for themselves which is Quuiich (which I’d written about before).  Leo Frachtenberg (who worked on the language a century ago and produced Lower Umpqua Texts and a grammar) thought the name derived from the words qiiuu, south, and hiich, people.  The name is likely in reference to their geographic position to the Siuslaw – Siuslaw and Lower Umpqua were mutually intelligible dialects of the same language.

So next time someone asks you about the Kalawatset you can tell them it’s a misnomer imposed from the outset – the proper name is Quuiich, the southern people.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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