Kate’s beautiful baskets


photo from Phoebe-Hearst, UC Berkeley

The basket above is a very beautiful one that is in the same collection at Berkeley as the basket caps I wrote about in yesterday’s post.

EDITED TO ADD: Nan MacDonald pointed out that in the museum records, the Sengstacken’s notes say she got it from a Mrs. Mary Johnson who said this basket was made around 1859 on Larson Slough by Sarah Walker.  Cryptically ‘dead’ is added in parenthesis – dead when?  By 1889 when the basket was given to Sengstacken?  Dead by 1929 when she donated these baskets to Berkeley?  There’s no way to tell from the fragmentary notes.  So far I haven’t found any information as to who she was.  Nan found a record of Nancy Walker who shows up in the 1900 census living in the Empire district with the Burns (Coos) family; her father is listed as Coquille and mother Coos Bay.  She was born about 1840.  There is no way to tell, however, if Nancy and Sarah were the same person, or relatives, or if there was any relation at all.  So it seems Annie Peterson thought the basket looked like something Kate “wife of Tom” would have made, but she wasn’t the actual weaver of this one.

When Melville Jacobs’ showed photos of these baskets to Annie Peterson, she said she thought this one was made by a woman named Kate, married to “Big Fat Tenmile Tom.” Annie said Kate was a Siuslaw or Lower Umpqua woman, and her Coos nickname was xwálxwal, meaning ‘eyes’ because she had big eyes. Annie said she went blind in later years, but still wove baskets.

Sadly that is about all I have been able to find out about Kate and Tom. In the Beckham papers it is noted that there is a Kate and Ticky Tom listed in the Indian census as living in Marshfield, and it is likely this couple.

There is also a photograph, taken sometime in the late 19th century or around the year 1900, of an Indian woman noted simply as “Indian Kate”, wearing a headdress, wearing a pine nut apron, dentalium necklaces, and holding two weswos (dance wands for the feather dance). Is it the same Kate? I can’t be sure, but it could be.


photo from Coos County Historical & Maritime Museum (Douglas County Museum also has this photo)

On the facebook Berkeley post I mistakenly said she had hid out at Women & Children’s Island. That woman was a different Kate, who lived with a settler named Dan Hayward. So I got my Kate’s mixed up there.

Kate’s basket above was a type Annie called axu, one of the fine baskets for holding valuables. She doesn’t give much information to differentiate the axu from other types for valuables. It was supposed to be smaller than the getlotl’ which was a suitcase to store good things. Chillahl was a ’round money basket’, about a foot high, one to two feet wide, laced on top. All of these Annie said were finely made with many designs from materials such as cattail leaf, beargrass, eelgrass, and cedar bark.

Annie did not know the names of most of the designs on the basket, but the motifs at the rim and very bottom are a variation of the kweye’is (mountain) design.



About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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3 Responses to Kate’s beautiful baskets

  1. Shirod says:

    I would think that the top and bottom designs would be the “Quail plume” design and the one’s above and below are the “friendship design”. The friendship design always looks like people hold ing arms to me. And the quail plume looks like a series of top knots of a quail. However they all have different names in other places…sometimes I see variations of the quail plume and people will call it the frog’s hand. But names change in different locations. The name of the middle design….I really don’t know or have an idea of what it was called….but it does remind me of cedar trees if you look at it closely.

    • shichils says:

      Different tribes/languages give different names to the same pattern. In Coos, to Annie, it’s one of two principal “Mountain” design types. She couldn’t recall names for the middle designs.
      I will have to add more stuff later – turns out from the Museum’s acquisition notes from Sengstacken, this basket might not be made by Kate but by a mysterious “Sarah Walker”. I have no clue who the heck that was. More on that later…

  2. Sofcis says:

    love it. thanks Patty.

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