Story Keeper #5–Native Neighbors

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My great-great-grandfather knew Indians frequented the area when he chose the land on the east side of the middle fork of the Willamette River. Once settled, he discovered a family group of natives lived above a nearby second creek which ran parallel to the waterway traversing his land.

Historians believe most Indians living or passing through the Willamette valley were comprised of the Kalapuyan tribes. Some evidence of Molalla and Klamath peoples also existed. Artifacts found included obsidian arrowheads, rock scrapers, metates (flat table-like stones), manos (hand rollers made for grinding) and mortars.¹ The Indians hunted game, gathered wild berries, collected acorns which were crushed and ground into flour and harvested camas, a root that tasted like sweet potato.

My great-great-grandfather described those living near him as peaceful, often overly friendly, always begging for food or anything a white man possessed. After crossing the Plains and being threatened by more aggressive tribes, he found these people to be smaller and stockier, fish eaters, who seemed less mentally alert. Like innocent children, they had no concept of theft. Anything lying on the ground became an object to be picked up and claimed. Tools disappeared frequently.

To catch fish they caught live grasshoppers and bound them with deer hair so only the legs could wiggle. Taking a hazel switch and a fine piece of sinew, they attached the bug and dropped it on the surface of the water where it would try to swim. A fish would grab for the grasshopper and get its teeth caught in the deer hair. With lightning swift precision, the native would land the fish on the bank.² Living so near to the tribe my great-great-grandfather learned many hunting tricks and self-preservation skills from his native neighbors, earning him the title of “Little White Brother”.

That endearing title would give him authority in the not-too-distant future.


¹Early Days on the Upper Willamette, by Veryl M. Jensen, 1970

²All The Way West, Hallie H. Huntington, 1984

The Golden Frontier, The recollections of Herman Francis Reinhart    Doyce Nunis and Nora Cunningham, 1962

Photo is a partial reproduction of a tintype made of Charlie Tufti in 1887, a Molalla Indian who lived on the Upper Willamette. The rifle and the photo belong to Edna Temple.

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