Tenmile Lake

I saw in the newsletter they are talking about getting around to renaming Camp Easter Seals.  The tribe printed this article a couple of years ago, but to give people ideas for names I am reposting it here.  I’ve modified the article a little, adding in a little bit more information, and I’ve added a few links to on wapato and smallpox.

Since the tribe has acquired the old Easter Seals camp on North Tenmile Lake, I was asked to write a history of the area.

Tenmile Creek was the boundary between the Hanis and Lower Umpqua people. It is known in the Hanis language as ske-ich. The Lower Umpqua name is unclear, it may be the same. Spencer Scott (son of Frachtenberg’s informant Louisa Smith) once recalled the name as skaniich but he was not entirely sure he was remembering the name correctly. (Harrington 24:102a online)

According to Lottie Evanoff (Harrington 1942), and George Barrett (US Court of Claims, 1931) the North Lake of Tenmile belonged to the Quuiich (Lower Umpqua) people. Hanis people lived on the southern lake, but according to Lottie this population all died from smallpox. A Hanis name for smallpox is qenchííwiye, loosely meaning ‘the visitor’ because the disease came from far away to visit the people. Visiting in all the worst ways, as it was one of the most deadly diseases and killed vast numbers of people. (Jacobs 1932-34 [101]:37)

There were fish camps on Tenmile Creek and Eel Creek. Eel Creek (known in Hanis as tl’wexaich, Alder place, for all the alders that grew there) at one time had a good run of eels and many Indians went there for them. Lottie said “They dammed the Eel Creek. Cut up mud & pile [to make a weir] & put eel basket.” (Harrington 1942 [24]:87a, [24]:334a).

Tenmile Lake was also famous for its wapato (Sagittaria latifolia). This was menioned as the place where people went to gather wapato (although there are or were populations of it in Siltcoos Lake and the Umpqua river as well). The native word for ‘wapato’ is the same or nearly so in Milluk, Hanis and Siuslawan: qwii’mits or kwii’mits. Mostly women harvested the tubers, by tromping in the mud and letting them float to the surface. Sometimes men helped with the harvest. The tubers were roasted in ashes and eaten fresh or after having been dried for winter storage. Wapato was often accompanied with salmon eggs or seal oil. (Jacobs 1932-34[91]:24, 41, [92]:93; Harrington 1942[22]:231a, Barnett 1934, Drucker 1933) When potatoes were introduced, they were given the same name as wapato. (Harrington 1942[22]:231a, 746)

Sometimes mythological beings were believed to hang around (at least sometimes) the Tenmile Lake region. The tracks of the la’la’la’la, the little people, were sometimes seen in the ta’an (sand dunes) near Tenmile. Lottie recalled hearing of a race of giants that lived at Lakeside – perhaps they were relatives of the giants who used to steal salmon from salmon camps on Coos River. These giants, which she called the hliishwaya were seen by hunters and fishermen on the lake. The giants wore deer skins with the antlers on as a hat. (Harrington 1942 [24]:663a-664b).  There are more stories of the Giants here.

Annie Peterson recalled the story of a Coos woman named Shichils (Myrtle-nut) once gained Bear power while at the Lake. She and her Milluk friend K’eye (“always looking, watches games”, also known as Mary) had been berrypicking near the lake. Then they got into their canoe to cross the lake, when they encountered a bear:

.and they saw on their way home a black bear swimming across the lake. Then Ké’ye didn’t want to tackle it, afraid of it. But Shichils wanted to kill it by clubbing it from her canoe. Then the bear dragged Shichils out of the canoe and below into the water. Then the bear came up and swam away. There Ké’ye was crying in the canoe. A long while after Shichils floated up, her hair all torn clean off and torn all over, scalped. Then Ké’ye pulled her body in the canoe, pulled her scalp back on, tied her handkerchief on it to hold it in place, she took the body along, and later Shichils came too. She was sick a long time, she got infections. One morning she said, I won’t die, the bear that fought me is going to heal me. She began to eat, she got well, her sores and then the scars all left. She said “the bears have washed it off.” She told the bear in her dream she was so sorry, she got angry and knocked it up. But she made up to the bear, and then the bear doctored her. Ké’ye told people about this in later years. Shichils never doctored with this bear power. Mrs P[eterson] doesn’t know what power black bear gave Shichils, except that of course he healed her after everyone expected she would die from her infecting sores. She called the bear “sister”. “My sister is going to heal me.” Next day she was healing. (Jacobs 1932-34 [98]:118-120)


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.

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.

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

U.S. Court of Claims. 1931. Testimony in Coos et al. v. United States, Docket K-345, National Archives, Washington DC.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
This entry was posted in History, toponyms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s