On Boundaries and Tribes

That’s the only way they’ve been talking.          

They didn’t come from any place.                  

That was their only place.                          

They didn’t know where they came from.

Every stream has people on it.        

That’s how they all had a stream.                

That’s the way they know themselves.                          

All other tribes had their stream as their land. -Jim Buchanan, Hanis Coos (as retranslated by Dell Hymes)

In an entry from October, https://shichils.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/a-visit-to-coos-bay-and-lower-umpqua-161-years-ago/, a visitor to Coos Bay in 1853 noted where the boundaries claimed by Coos people – Tenmile Lake to the north; and ‘a point near Coquille River’ to the south, Coast Range to the east. In all the decades following, in interviews with anthropologists and at land claims trials, numerous Indians were quite consistent on the locations and names intertribal boundaries.

Once I was told by an individual that ‘boundaries were imposed by the government’. Given that records over the span of a century were so consistent, and go back so early, I find that explanation unlikely.  (Additionally he offered no evidence for his claim).  All the boundaries had indigenous names; and names were recorded for various lakes, village, camp sites and fishing sites as well. The people were very consistent in identifying which landmarks served as intertribal boundaries, so they seem indigenous in origin rather than imposed by settlers or the federal government.

However, noting that there were intertribal boundaries does raise some other questions. It has been noted that for Oregon coast tribes there weren’t overarching intervillage governmental bodies (unlike, say, for tribes of the east such as the Six Nations). Government was defined at the village level; each chief and his village’s council was independent of those of other villages. So, if each village was independent, how was ‘tribe’ defined by the people – if it was at all – and how and why were territories defined above the village level? One might think that an obvious definition would be having a language in common. That, for instance, all Hanis-speaking people, living in villages from Empire to up Coos River to southern Tenmile Lake, recognized a broader kinship based on their shared language and collectively recognized boundaries (at Tenmile creek and Cut Creek) based on that. However, that doesn’t really hold up – for one, the Milluk speaking people of lower Coos Bay (from Second Creek on down) and South Slough were often included in a broader territory defined from Tenmile Creek to Whiskey Run. Also there are many examples of other peoples who shared a language in common, but not boundaries. For example, the Quuiich (Lower Umpqua) and Siuslaw spoke the same language, but did not quite see themselves as one people.  Related and close, certainly.  Yet they defined themselves as somewhat distinct communities.  (The Lower Umpqua name Quuiich probably means ‘southern people’, defining themselves as the southern community of the people who spoke wa’as, the Siuslawan language).  The boundary between them was Siltcoos.

Similarly, the Alsea and Yaquina spoke the same language but seemed to be viewed as distinctive groups -the Alsea along the Alsea and Yachats rivers, Yaquina on the Yaquina river. And, returning to Coos Bay, why would two different language groups – Hanis and Milluk – appear to act as one tribe and hold one southern boundary in common – the Whiskey Run and Cut Creek area. And although it was noted the first Milluk village was at Second Creek* (just below Empire), people didn’t appear to regard it as a boundary in the same sense as Tenmile Creek between Hanis and Umpqua, or Tenmile between Siuslaw and Alsea. Many noted that Coos Bay Indians camped on the north side of Whiskey Run and that both Coos Bay and Lower Coquille gathered camas that grew there (and probably the roots of harvest brodiaea also).

If territory isn’t based on common language perhaps it was based on common culture. I think this is a partial answer, but not the whole answer. So far as we can tell, not only the Siuslaw-Lower Umpqua shared similar cultures, as did Hanis-Milluk, but all 4 seemed to have more similarities to each other than differences. Although the Alsea and Athabaskans had some different customs, there were still many shared customs – perhaps reinforced over time through tribal intermarriages, trade, and socializing (gambling, dancing, and sports like shinny).  And these social relationships were certainly important in creating broader spheres of political influence and prestige for village chiefs and their families.

I think the answer may lie primarily in the shared and regulated use of resources. Here’s what I mean. Picture a single village – say, Hanisiich in Empire, or Kawliich at Winchester Bay. While either of these villages would have access to fishing sites and maybe some clams and eelgrass, the resource base in the immediate envions of any single village would be pretty limited. People gathered dozens of species of plants, hunted all kinds of sea mammals, ducks, deer and elk, gathered shellfish and followed migratory fish (salmon, eels) upriver. To accomplish all this people needed to range a bit farther afield than the immediate environs around the village. They might travel many miles away from their homes to hunt, fish or gather. And these sites were not random – people returned to a specific places every year. Annie Peterson talked a bit about seasonal rounds:

The Coos had autumn fishing villages for temporary living, with knife grass or brush houses there; some had lumber houses. These were temporary seasonal quarters, these were near the falls and shallow water. These were left there, unoccupied, perfectly safely. The salmon were when they first came in caught from the lower bay permanent houses. Then as the salmon went up the people went up to their upriver houses, and stayed there for eels and salmon until New Years or thereabouts. Three canoes were connected with the woven dry rack platform of pse, of split fir sticks, which is woven with spruce roots; it is a single large mat which is rolled like a big carpet, of thick whittled firs. When they got it over the canoes, which don’t touch, they call the 3 canoe pse held caravan ch’łi, caravan, the mover or moving thing. Then they take the pse and put it up on the rafters of their permanent down river houses when they get there. Women and men help paddle the ch’łi, the outside canoes have 3 paddlers, the middle canoe has only 2 paddlers. Others go downriver in smaller canoes or ride the ch’łi. Some Upper Hanis (daqach hanis), Upper Miluks** (daga milukw) were the names of those people who like it upriver so well that they stayed virtually permanently in these up-bay or upriver villages. So these villages were by no means deserted; they were partially occupied all the time. (emphasis mine, Jacobs 97:26).

Lottie Evanoff said her father (Doloos Jackson, Hanisiich chief) always returned to Graveyard Point for salmon fishing. “My father would always say that Graveyard Point was my father’s house and my father went up to that place every summer, and since he was a chief would merely look on as his men were catching salmons there…” (Harrington 1942 24:95b) So at these ‘summer villages’ upriver, people had houses they were able to leave for months at a time, expecting them to be undisturbed. (I am sure it helped having a few year-round residents to keep an eye on things). Deer and elk hunting was spread over a wider region than individual fishing sites, but there was regional control and ownership of these areas as well. Frank Drew said of this:

Coos, Umpqua, Siuslaw had boundaries, located by creek names. Between Siuslaw and Alsea was 10-mile creek (named in Coos ch’amáhlgihich, clay land), a precise boundary line. The Umpquas had a boundary from 10mile creek to Coos Bay 10-mile creek (sgéich) (between Coos & Umpqua). That’s the Coos northern boundary. The creek, chíltlkuus (Umpqua word) in between Siuslaw and Umpquas. The 4 tribes all hunted in mountain territory communally. Outsiders had to get permission to hunt in the coast ribes; territory, from some coast tribe chief. (Jacobs 91:34)

Annie Peterson agreed, noting “Crossed over boundaries only on invitation for hunting and when visiting – a war or payment in lieu resulted on territory violation.” (Barnett 1934) Frank believed the 4 tribes hunted communally, though that may not always have been true. His life experience came from growing up at Yachats, where Siuslaw, Lower Umpqua and Coos Bay people together went hunting in the hills from Perpetua south to upper North Fork Siuslaw. Nevertheless there were networks of trails between tribes, such as the one from the Allegany region to Scottsburg, and trails from Umpqua to Siuslaw country.

So in summary, I think the concept of tribal territory was based on seasonal rounds and resource use patterns, as well as feelings of shared culture and kinship.

*Indeed the relationship between Hanis and Milluk is still a puzzle – not just linguistically, but unravelling the relationships between Hanis and Milluks on the bay, given the near proximity of some villages and the intertwined resource use on the forks of Coos River.

**Upper Miluk is probably a reference to Milluk people living up South Fork Coos River, which Lottie said was the actual Millicoma River (today’s Millicoma was K’uggwiich) where some Milluk people set up salmon and eel camps.

References Barnett, Homer G. (1934). Indian Tribes of the Oregon Coast. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Drucker, Phillip (1933). Ethnographic Field Notes. Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Drucker, Phillip (1939). Contributions to Alsea Ethnography. University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology. Vol. 35, No. 7, pp. 81-102. Berkeley, CA.

Frachtenberg, Leo J. (1909). Coos Field notes. Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Frachtenberg, Leo J. (1913). Coos Texts. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology, no. 1. New York.

Frachtenberg, Leo J. (1914). Lower Umpqua Texts and Notes on the Kusan Dialects. Columbia University Contributions to Anthropology 4. New York.

Frachtenberg, Leo J. (1920). Alsea Texts and Myths. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 67. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

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.

Hymes, Dell.  2003.  Now I Know Only so Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics.  University of Nebraska, Lincoln NE.

Jacobs, Melville (1932-34). Coos Ethnologic Notes, Notebooks 91-99, 101, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Archives, Seattle.

Jacobs, Melville (1939). Coos Narrative and Ethnologic Texts. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA. Jacobs, Melville (1940). Coos Myth Texts. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.

Ward, Beverly H. (1986). White Moccasins. Myrtle Point Printing, Myrtle Point OR.

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Just sharing some fun on language
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