Libby, or HeldƏnita, a Milluk woman

Libby (Coos) & Mike Tinalon, husband, at Libby, Newport Mine, OR. (Beckham 3200 DPI. 5.16.2018)

Photo: Left, Mike Tinalon or perhaps Quinlin; right, Heldoniita/Libby (Milluk). Photo date unknown; some time in 1880s or 1890s. Photo courtesy of Dr. Stephen Beckham via Flanagan family

Some may remember that Coalbank Slough was once called Libby Slough, and that near the old Newport mine was a short lived town that was named Libby. What people may not recall that Libby was the English name of a Milluk woman. I’ve never found out how she came by the English name Libby but her Milluk nickname was Hɛ´ldǝnita (Heldoniita), a name from the Milluk verb hɛldǝnu (heldonu) which means ‘row over row, ruffle over ruffle’ in reference to the many shell necklaces she had. The brother of Libby/Heldoniita was one of the South Slough chiefs, so she was born into a wealthy family. Annie said she (and her own mother “Matilda”) also owned fancy dresses made of small feathers. She said they were made of all colors of feathers – “Blue jays, meadowlark, red headed woodpecker, green headed mallard ducks’ (head feathers), eagle down.” (Jacobs 97:54) These dresses too may have been a kind of wealth item. Libby was related to other high ranking families, both Hanis and Milluk – one of her nephews was Hanis chief Doloos Jackson.

Legend has it that she showed Patrick Flanagan where coal was, and he opened the Newport mine. Flanagan was an early settler on the bay. He married Ella Winchester in 1856, and Libby worked for the couple for many years, and Flanagan built a small house for her and her husband, who was known as Mike Tinalon (although he might have been named Quinlon or Quinlin)*. Ella protected Libby. When soldiers came down to do periodic sweeps to search for ‘runaway Indians’ and forcibly remove them to the Coast Reservation, Ella would hide Libby in a flour barrel. There is an interesting and awful historical irony to this, as in 1856 Flanagan also had a contract to help remove south coast Indians to the reservation. He seems to have made Libby his one exception to his contract. When Libby became very old and infirm, the Wasson family took her in. When she died she was buried in the Wasson family cemetery up South Slough.

Libby appears to have been fondly remembered by many Native families, as both her English and Native names have been passed on a few times in some tribal families.


Beckham, Dow. 1995. Stars in the Dark: Coal Mines of Southwestern Oregon. Arago Books, Coos Bay OR.

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.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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