First posted Dec. 17, 2011
There are a few mentions of a mysterious people called “Sagandas” or “Sik’andas”. There are few mentions of them, and only two recorded stories. The oldest story was recorded by Henry Hull St. Clair in 1903 in his work with James Buchanan. It was reprinted in Leo Frachtenberg’s “Coos Texts”. In this story he mentions a ‘mean’ people with some unusual abilities who lived in a village called Baltiasa (in 1932, Buchanan listed this village as somewhere west of Glasgow). Baltiasa (or, Baldiiyasa) is also a name for Cape Arago. The root of the word balt-/bald- is the root in Hanis and Milluk for ocean. It’s also the root for the Milluk word for sand (baldis) and the Hanis word for west. It was said these people could swim all the way across the bay underwater and crawl out “like a snake”; float stones on the water, and owned large stone pots. These mean people were eventually driven out of Coos Bay. They fled on two rafts, one going north and one south. Buchanan never names these people Sagandas, but this story sounds like other mentions of them, so I assume the story is related.
In 1933, Annie Miner Peterson told the story of the Sagandas people to Melville Jacobs. Her version is a little different from Buchanan’s. In this one, the Sagandas people are a band of Milluk speaking people living somewhere on Coos Bay. A Sagandas man passes through Chetco to visit his mother’s relatives at Crescent City; and there he kills a mean and wealthy Chetco chief. The Sagandas are given one year to raise the blood price to pay for this killing. They are unable to do so, and they flee. Eventually they land in another place. Then Annie says they went to the land of the ‘braided hair people, which she interpreted as meaning the land of Japan, and that a Milluk man who worked on a sailing ship met an aged Sagandas man who was the last who still spoke the Milluk language. Melville Jacobs later interpreted this tale as meaning that the Milluk sailor did indeed meet a Milluk man, but somewhere on Vancouver Island or elsewhere along the coast of BC or southern Alaska.
Then in 1942, John P. Harrington asked Frank Drew (who had been good friends with Buchanan) and Lottie Evanoff (Annie Peterson’s niece) about the Sagandas. Lottie had heard that they were a people driven out long ago from both Glasgow (site of Hanis village Kdet) and from the Siuslaw and became the Japanese people. Some went north and some went south, when they were driven away from here (which tracks with the story Buchanan told. When Lottie had visited Crescent City she had seen some large people there. So I suppose in her mind she associated the Sagandas as an ancestor to some of the California people.
I have wondered what the origin of these stories are. Was there once a group of people driven away from Coos Bay, or Siuslaw? Were they local people or, possibly, is it a memory of when the first Athabaskan speaking peoples came south over a millenia ago and is a story of culture clash and migration? Or are these wholly mythological stories?
Jim Buchanan’s story of the Sagandas, as recorded by Henry Hull St Clair:
There was a village in Coos Bay they named Baltiasa. They lived in the ground, they lived way in the ground. They were big, tall Indians. They had long fish poles. Whenever they caught a fish, they would swing it ashore no matter how large a fish it was.
So when they play, they go down to the water and dive from the edge of the water. They would dive and go clean across the river and crawl ashore like a snake. They could dive about the distance of one mile, and they would come back the same way. They made pots out of stones. They also floated big stones. They talked up above (to Heaven). That’s the reason that the rock never sinks. If you don’t talk when you put a rock in the water, it will sink. He takes a big rock and puts it on top of his head and walks around under the water. That’s the way they got their oysters. That’s what they lived on. When they put a rock on the water, they can stand on top of it. The rock never sinks.
It makes no odds, they could make small feather float and stand on top of it, and it never sinks. They take the carbuncles off of trees and make hats out of them. They take some great big hard bones and make a sort of knife out of them. So they wore these carbuncle hats. So they wore these carbuncle hats. So they take these bone knives and club one another over the head with them. They could not hurt one another. That’s they way they had of practising.
Those Indians were mean. All the rest of the Indians were afraid of them. It made no odds how many went by that way, there would be just so many of these fellows following them. Then they would abuse those people. So the rest of the Indians got so they didn’t want them. So they held a big council. They were going to drive them away. So they did so. So they made two rafts. So they went down the river. They watched them from both sides. They followed them from behind. They were shooting at them with arrows. They got down to the bar. They watched them. And the current took the raft out over the bar. When they got outside, they dropped anchor awhile. They were pouring out a lot of seal oil into the ocean, and the ocean got perfectly smooth. There was no wind. So it got night, and they divided. One of the rafts went north and the other went south.
One of the rafts was made lightning like (kind of blaze). That was the one that went north. But that’s all they know about them. They don’t know where they went to.