Unlike the previous stories, this one is not about a mythological being (or, since many believe in the existence of bigfoot I might say, presumed mythological), but about a real person. I first wrote about Minnehaha’s mysterious disappearance in 2013. It’s time to revisit her story.
In the previous post about the eshon, the wild beings, I briefly mentioned that there was a Hanis woman known as Minnehaha who disappeared and was thought by some to have become an eshon. I wanted to write a little bit more about here even though, unfortunately, not much is known about her.
I suppose first I should talk about the oddity of her name – because you are likely wondering how a Coos Bay woman was named for a character in a Longfellow poem. A lot of Indians received “English” names (or at least English language friendly names) at the hands of soldiers and Indian agents when Coos and Lower Umqpua people were being rounded up for removal to Fort Umpqua beginning in 1856 (and from there, some five years later, would be removed again to Yachats). Lottie Evanoff said that when the Coos Bay Indians were gathered up at a point just south of Empire known as kiwe’et (Hanis)/kweweu(Milluk) prior to removal to Fort Umpqua, the people were given new names by the whites. She said “One was dubbed by White soldiers who got out of names: Kiss-my-arse! And the Ind[ian] man thot this was his real name, till later Whites disillusioned him.” (Harrington reel 24:273b)
In comparison, Minnehaha got off lucky in her naming.
Only one other nickname is recorded for her, which was k’e tli’is. It means ‘without language’, and apparently she was profoundly hearing impaired and could not speak well (hence, the name). We do not know who her mother was, but her father was from the Empire village of Ntise’ich. Her husband Wenq (‘weaver’) was from that same village. She and her husband were among those who were eventually forced to move from Coos Bay to Yachats.
From here, the stories about her fate vary a bit. But one thing they all agree on: Minnehaha disappeared one day, never to be seen again.
Jim Buchanan, who as the oldest informant would have been a teen or young adult when she disappeared, probably has the most accurate version. He said she got lost after an elk hunt led by Jim Tyee. They were coming back from the forest, when she disappeared. There was a search but she was not found. People began to gossip that she had become aneshon, a ‘wild being of the woods’.
Frank Drew, who probably had heard the story from his friend Jim, said her disappearance had happened ‘before his time’. He said she was with some other girls picking berries near Tkiimmis (Starr Creek) just north of Yachats. She was lost, and never found.
Annie Peterson, born 1860, was just a few years older than Drew but about a decade younger than Jim, agreed with Jim’s account that she disappeared after a man killed an elk somewhere in the woods near Yachats. Many people went out to pack the elk back, including Minnehaha. She says after Minnehaha went missing, the people searched for a week. They found her tracks, and found pieces of her dress on brush, but they never found her. She says people thought she had become an eshon.
So what did happen to Minnehaha? Whether she disappeared berry picking or packing elk meat, in the 1860s and 1870s there were few people near Yachats and the land was rough. Steep cliffs around Halqaik (Perpetua), rough shoreline, dense woods to the east. In other words, there were plenty of places one could meet with an accident and be lost. And apparently being hearing impaired, she wouldn’t have heard people calling for her and she may not have been able to make herself verbally understood. However, both men and women were trained from a young age in being able to read tracks. If Minnehaha ran away, or got lost, or fell and got hurt, the Coos and Lower Umpqua people at Yachats should have been able to track her fairly easily. And per Annie’s account, they tried and failed. Why couldn’t they find her?
One possibility is she was kidnapped by someone. That seems unlikely, as there were just a few agency employees around and no settlers in the immediate environs at the time of her disappearance. Although it is possible another Indian was responsible, if this is what happened. But if someone did kidnap her, they ought to have seen some signs of another set of tracks. No one mentions any other tracks.
She could have become injured – slipped and fallen. There are some steep slopes in the environs around Yachats and the seas are rough. If she had a fatal fall, her body could easily have gone undiscovered.
Some 160 years on, we will never know what happened.