History

Since I mention various native informants fairly frequently I thought I’d provide a little bit of background information on who they were, and what linguists and other ethnographers they worked with over the years.

Much of our linguistic information comes from a few Coos Bay informants – mainly Jim Buchanan, Frank Drew, Annie Miner Peterson, and Lottie Evanoff; two Lower Umpqua informants, Louisa Smith and her son Spencer Scott; and the Barrett family (Siuslaw); Clay, Logan and Henry Barrettm and their sister Mae Barrett Elliott.

The earliest work done on Hanis Coos was with unnamed people in the 1850s and 1870s. In 1855, Dr. Milhau recorded a short wordlist in two dialects of Hanis and in Lower Umpqua. In the 1870s, George P. Bissell recorded wordlists from an identified Hanis woman and an unidentified Lower Umpqua woman.

James Buchanan was a Hanis Indian, born at Coos Bay in the village of Wu’alachsome time between the years 1845 and 1848. In 1856, he and all Coos Bay Indians were moved to kiwe’et, a point just below Empire in preparation to be moved to Fort Umpqua, a military fort established on the north spit of the Umpqua River. The soldiers and Indian agents issued English names to all the Indians. Some unknown agent or soldier, in an apparent moment of humor, named a young boy James Buchanan, after the man elected president that year. It was a name he kept for the rest of his long life. His Hanis nickname was Tsetehl, meaning worn out knife, knife worn small. In 1860, he was removed with the rest of the Coos and Lower Umpqua to Yachats, which was then part of the Coast Reservation. He became a leader among the Coos Bay people. After the Yachats subagency was closed, he moved to the Siuslaw River. He married Eliza, sister of a Coos chief named Jack Rogers. The Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw people began working on land claims as early as 1890, which culminated in a land claims trial in 1931. Jim Buchanan testified at the trial in Hanis with the help of translators. During his lifetime he was also a noted storyteller and worked with three different linguists to record the Hanis language. For many years he lived at Siboco, on the south shore of the Siuslaw River. Siuslaw elder Dorothy Kneaper recalled that as a child, her family would canoe over to Jim Buchanan’s house. They brought him salmon and in return he gave them apples from his orchard.

The first linguist he worked with was Henry Hull St. Clair, a student of Dr. Franz Boas. In 1903 St. Clair worked with Jim Buchanan, Tom Hollis, and George Barney to record some vocabulary in Hanis and Milluk. He mainly worked with Buchanan, ultimately recording thirteen myths. Six years later, Leo Frachtenberg came to the Siletz reservation, and worked with Jim Buchanan, Tom Hollis, and Frank Drew. Frank Drew was born to a Hanis Coos woman at the Yachats reservation but had spent most of his life living on the Siuslaw River. He was fluent in English and Hanis, and knew quite a bit of the Siuslaw-Umpqua language as well. Frank Drew was quite willing to work with Leo Frachtenberg, but he was very poor at providing texts, which Jim Buchanan could do. So Frachtenberg worked obtaining stories from Buchanan, with the help of Frank Drew as translator. 

In this same time period Leo Frachtenberg also worked on the Siuslaw-Umpqua and Alsea languages. In 1911 he worked with a Lower Umpqua woman named Louisa Smith (her father, Sunk-in-the-Water, was Lower Umpqua from the village of Tsalila, her mother was from an upper Siuslaw village), and her husband William Smith. Her native nickname was Tlma’qt chiitl, Short-Hand, because she was a short-statured person. William Smith was Alsea, but he was also fluent in the Siuslaw-Umpqua language. Louisa Smith had been J. O. Dorsey’s informant on the Siuslaw language in 1884. (During this time period Dorsey also worked with Coquelle Solomon to obtain a wordlist of the Lower Coquille dialect of Milluk).  Frachtenberg obtained several texts, but he was not satisfied with their quality as in his opinion neither of the Smiths were good storytellers, and Louisa was unwell and her mind wandered.

In 1932 Melville Jacobs, a linguist from the University of Washington, began work with Frank Drew and to a lesser extent Jim Buchanan, to record ethnographic and linguistic information. He also recorded several songs from both of them on wax cylinders. Jim Buchanan died shortly after his work with Melville Jacobs, who was not satisfied with Frank Drew as an informant. Jacobs occasionally wrote negative comments in the margins of his notebooks from his work with Drew. In Jacobs’ opinion, Drew was too acculturated. Drew was also not well liked nor trusted by some of his neighbors. People gossiped that he was greedy and scheming in trying to cheat other Indians out of their allotments.

The following two summers, Jacobs worked with Annie Miner Peterson. She was born in 1860 to Mótolt (her English name was Matilda), of Hanis and Lower Coquille ancestry, and a white father named Miner. Matilda was from one of the Hanis villages in Empire, ntise’ɪch. Mr. Miner worked in a sawmill and was rarely home. When Matilda’s family were all removed to Yachats, she took her infant daughter and left for Yachats. Annie’s first language was Hanis, learned Milluk at a young age, and as a young adult learned English. Jacobs was delighted to find someone who was fluent in both Hanis and Milluk, and he obtained many texts from her in both languages. In addition to texts, he also got a lot of ethnographic information. Annie Miner Peterson was a skilled basket weaver, and she gave Jacobs a lot of information about the different types of baskets, designs, materials and dyes. However, like Frank Drew, she was a controversial figure among some of her peers, and one of her nicknames was tsmixwn, meaning tricky or trickster. She dictated her autobiography to Melville Jacobs in the Millukw language, and is also the subject of a biography, “She’s Tricky Like Coyote” by Lionel Youst.

In 1933 Philip Drucker, then a University California at Berkeley graduate student visited the Siletz Reservation to do a cultural survey. He worked primarily with speakers of southwestern Oregon Athabaskan languages, but he also worked with Tillamook, Alsea, Molalla, Lower Umpqua and Coos Bay Indians. He eventually published brief ethnographic sketches of the southwestern Athabaskans and Alsea. He never published any of his notes he collected from his interviews with the Coos Bay informants Frank Drew, Annie Miner Peterson, and a Hanis Coos woman named Agnes Johnson.

In 1942, John Peabody Harrington worked with some speakers of Hanis, Milluk and Siuslaw. For Hanis, he primarily worked with Frank Drew and Annie Miner Peterson’s niece Lottie Evanoff. Lottie was the daughter of Annie’s older sister Fanny and Chief Doloos Jackson. Harrington also got a few Hanis words from Martha Harney Johnson. Martha was a full-blooded Hanis Indian who grew up on the Siuslaw River. He got very little Milluk – a few words that Lottie Evanoff remembered, and a few words from Milluk/Upper Coquille sisters Daisy Wasson Codding and Lolly Wasson. For the Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua language, he got many Siuslaw terms from Frank Drew and Spencer Scott, who was the son of Frachtenberg’s Lower Umpqua informant Louisa Smith. He also got some Siuslaw vocabularies from brothers Clay, Howard and Logan Barrett. Harrington had a wonderful ear for language, and his notes are very detailed phonetically. He published none of his work from western Oregon, but his field notes are available on microfilm from the National Anthropological Archives in Washington DC. He was the last investigator to obtain a lot of detailed information on the Coos Bay and Siuslaw languages and culture.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a few sound recordings and word lists were made, but very little about ethnography was captured during this period. In 1953, linguist Morris Swadesh made recordings of several western Oregon languages, including Milluk with sisters Daisy Wasson Codding and Lolly, Hanis with Martha Harney Johnson, and Siuslaw with Mae Barrett Elliott, Clay Barrett, Henry Barrett and Billy Dick. This generation of Barretts were the last fluent speakers of the Siuslaw language, and they all passed away in the 1960s. Martha Harney Johnson was the last fluent speaker of Hanis, and she died in 1972. A few years before she died, she worked briefly with a few other linguists to record a few words.

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