“Stay in One Place”

spring 2013 035

“Stay in One Place”

By Madronna Holden: draft (not for citation without permission).  All material on this page is copyright with all rights reserved.  Feel free to contact me if you want to use this material.

Recently, a Native elder was giving a conference in Portland, Oregon when a well meaning audience member asked her what whites could do to help her people. “You could,” came the reply, “Stay in one place”. These pointed words frame a central contrast between Indian and non-Indian worldviews-and a way of focusing the history of Indian and non-Indian relations in the Pacific Northwest. On the one hand there were the diverse indigenous peoples who made their home on this land for generations. On the other hand, there were restless newcomers who were as destructive as they were bereft of belonging. The shaping of U.S. territory out of the aboriginal lands of the Pacific Northwest centered on an inevitable clash between these two groups.

On the first pole of this clash were the traditional beliefs of Henry Cultee. When I first visited Cultee, he was eighty-four years old and living in his “fishing shack” a few miles from the mouth of the Humptulips River on Grays Harbor, at the place the Lower Chehalis who had fished here for generations called Samamanauwish. When I last visited him he was close to a hundred and still in excellent health. But he had given up the hard physical labor of setting, mending, and pulling in nets at Samamanauwish and was living with his son, Richard Cultee, on the Skokomish Reservation.[1] Together they were caring for two boys they had recently taken in. “Here we are”, the elder Cultee joked, “Bachelors with children!”

When Henry Cultee had been the age of these boys, his people had sent him to dive in the cold Humptulips River in the season “when the water was alive”. In the old days, this was training to find an “Indian doctor power”, like the one that made his mother a renowned healer. But when Cultee reached the traditional age for a spirit quest, it was almost 1900, and many things had changed in the lives of the Lower Chehalis people. Young people no longer went into the wilderness to seek a spirit power to guide their lives. In lieu of this, Cultee’s parents “put a power on him” that made him “rooted to this ground”. It was this power, he stated, that gave him his long life and personal well being.

His people had always told him, “Don’t lie to your life: the eyes of the world are looking at you”. As an Upper Chehalis elder phrased this belief to Thelma Adamson in l926, those who did not “mind the ways of the earth” could expect to have “the earth… wink its eye and then they will have a short life.”[2] The “eyes of the earth”, Cultee explained, observed you and saw into your heart even if you hid your actions from others. According to what the land saw of you, it either gave you or took away your future.

Henry Cultee’s inheritance exemplifies the vitality of a tradition profoundly rooted in the natural landscape: a tradition in which each place had a story the people kept for it. Together, these stories directed the people how to live on the land. To the Native eye, emigrants without such roots exhibited a homelessness hazardous to themselves as well as to the land they sought to claim. From the point of first contact, Native comment speculated that it was the emigrants’ lack of a home on this land that made them unable to listen to the land’s voices, human and non-human. Their lack of belonging was an essential correlate to the insatiable greed of some non-Indians. And it was this same lack of belonging that underlay the non-Indian attempt to dominate others and convert them to their own beliefs. In this sense, emigrant behavior was like that of ghosts in many Native traditions-ghosts whose estrangement from their earthly home caused them to kidnap the souls of the living to keep them company in the land of the dead. Indeed, , a tragic aspect of Euroamerican dislocation was its contagion, as emigrants uprooted Native peoples to make room for themselves-and missionaries and educators spread spiritual dislocation in their attacks on longstanding cultural belief systems.

When the first Europeans set foot on the shores of what is now western Washington, they stepped into a Native tale about an ancient flood. According to this tale, when the floodwaters rose, some of the people were fortunate enough to get to high ground. They waited there until the waters receded. That took a long time, but when the land was finally clear again, they returned to take up life on their ancient homeland. These were the ancestors of those the explorers found living on this land-and of modern Indians today. As a contemporary Cowlitz version of this story states: “Our ancestors were here before the great flood”. [3]

Those who survived this flood were the lucky ones, since many drowned when the waters rose. [4] Yet a third group was washed out to the sea by the floodwaters. It was thought they had disappeared altogether-until European explorers appeared off the Washington coast, acting just like ones who had been drifting about looking for home all this time. When the French fur trappers first made their appearance in Chehalis territory, they were called “drift people”, after their place in this story.[5] Some explorers and fur trappers were nicknamed, Wholton, the “people who floated away”.[6] The Chinook called whites Tlohon-nipts– “those who drift ashore”.[7] The Makah and the Quilleyute referred to the sailors on Spanish galleons who first came to their shores as the “drifting white race”.[8] It was in this context that one of Thelma Adamson’s Chehalis consultants told her in 1926: “Maybe white people drifted clear across the Atlantic…Maybe they are coming back again”.[9]

Elsewhere on the Northwest Coast, Native peoples also nicknamed emigrants for their restlessness. “Moving people”, Coos-Kalapuya elder Esther Stutzman told me her people called the pioneers, since they never seemed to light in one place. “They would only stay a little while, move on, stay a little while, move on”. Like the Coos, other Native peoples of the Oregon coast, such as the Siuslaw, regularly referred to whites as the “moving people”. So did the peoples of Northern California. The Pit River people’s name for whites was enellaaduwi, “wanderers”. As an ethnologist working with the Pit River, Jaime de Angulo, put it, “What struck the Pit Rivers most about the first whites (prospectors, trappers, etc.) was that they appeared to be homeless”.[10]

Pioneers themselves noted the restlessness among their numbers that impressed Native peoples. Here is an excerpt from Samuel James’ open letter to the residents of Cornwall, England, sent from Grand Mound, Washington in 1860:

The Americans are ever in motion. They generally calculate to build and do a little work on a piece of land, and then watch the first opportunity for selling, and the money they get is mostly spent in traveling before they settle again, and thus the great multitude of them are always on the move.[11]

This mid-nineteenth century pioneer observation echoes that of contemporary Tulalip elder Janet McCloud, who observed that non-Indians still appear always to be looking for “something else, somewhere else”.[12] The pioneer statement indicates the way in which the current tendency to relate to the land as a “one night stand”, as Wendell Berry put it, is soundly situated in pioneer history.

Musing on her family history on Grays Harbor, one woman told me how her aunt had cared for her young children in a three-sided shelter on a local mail dock that marked the earliest settlement around Damon’s Point. The dock was meager protection against the winds that blew up incessantly from the harbor. Native American women provided her aunt with their company as they came through on their seasonal gathering rounds. But her aunt’s predominant memory of the father of her children was of that of the blanket he hoisted for a sail as he set off on his next “scheme”. The process was unrelenting. When one scheme missed fruition, he would be off on another. He never stayed home long enough to complete the promised fourth wall on his family’s dock shelter, though after some years he managed to move them to a small house situated back from the harbor and the full force of the winter storms.

“We are a restless race,” my interviewee sighed as she told this story.

“The roving class of our men”, as George Gibbs, Washington Territory’s first official ethnographer, observed, was attracted to get-rich-quick schemes that overwhelmed not only their stability but also their conscience. Gibbs gave an example in a letter he sent to his mother from Astoria, Oregon in 1850. He related that an Indian showed a missionary priest a handful of gold the Indian referred to as “white man’s powder”. The priest advised him not to show his find to any other whites, lest they “overrun the country and exterminate the [Indian] race”. [13] This incident has reference to a tragic page in Northwest history. Many of this “roving class of our men” who came to find gold in the Pacific Northwest declared themselves outright “exterminationists” as far as the Indians were concerned.[14]

Most European pioneers and explorers lacked the perspective of this priest-and his concern for the consequences of their actions on Native people. Fur trappers, mountain men, and gold seekers carried the self-image of the “archetype of the white hunter-hero” that was predominant in the U. S. narrative of Manifest Destiny. [15] They fancied themselves men of discovery whose prowess earned them a life of adventure-and a license to subdue the land and people they came upon. They proudly proclaimed that the restlessness of the pioneer spirit was a mark of its epic dimensions, as in this statement from Leroy Inman’s book of pioneer recollections on the Upper McKenzie River, near Eugene, Oregon:

The indomitable spirit of the Pioneer, bravely facing the unknown…These were restless men…Why did they pull up stakes where they were, not knowing whether they could better themselves elsewhere? … Land was all-important to the pioneers… Owning land gave them power, and power governed Man’s destiny.[16]

Notably, Inman also acknowledges that pioneer women were left out of the glory of the pioneer project, as the woman left alone on her three-sided shelter on Grays Harbor well knew:

We say men [in speaking of the pioneers], for women had very little to say about it…for the most part they just went along, wherever they were left, often enduring great hardships, some dying along the way. Few complained, they merely accepted. It was a way of life. [17]

Native comment lends considerable leavening to this image of the heroic pioneer man. Stories of the “drift people” depict emigrants as unfortunates cast about by fate rather than masters of destiny. In these stories, the ones who stayed in place owned all the luck. They held the power granted them by communion with spirits of the natural world- and they could use such power to heal, to accumulate goods to share with their kin, or to express wisdom in the guidance of their people. In Native tradition, the drift people were poor cousins-low class people-compared to those who stayed put.

Contemporary Okanagan educator Jeanette Armstrong had pointed words about the behavior of such “drift people” in the wake of her people’s almost two centuries of experience with them: “Okanagans say that ‘heart’ is where community and land come into our beings and become part of us because they are as essential to our survival as is our own skin.” In turn, “people without hearts” exhibit “collective disharmony and alienation from land.” These are blind to the destructive effects of their actions both on themselves and others. [18]

Parallel perspectives have longstanding history among other Northwestern peoples. De Angulo reported that the linguistic root of the Pit River term for whites, enellaaduwi, “wanderers”, is the same as that for the sorely mentally disturbed. When a Pit River person goes “wandering” in this way, he “goes around the mountains, cries, breaks pieces of wood, hurls stone…” His relatives kept a respectable distance from one in such a state.[19] It was to prevent a similar craziness in their children that Chehalis mothers were traditionally admonished to save their umbilical cords for them. A child lacking this tie to his or her earthly origin was said to run around in a hyperactive way, unable to listen to others-“just as if he can’t hear”. [20]

It was this kind of craziness that marked the behavior of those who ran around all over the countryside, carrying forward the flag of their “civilization”. Such people were unable to listen to the voices of the land and the land’s original peoples-since their ancestors had never made a place for them. A contemporary elder observed as much to a would-be anthropologist who visited her at Makah. It must be because his parents had not saved his umbilical cord for him, she informed him, that he was asking her the questions he should have been asking his own elders. Like Chehalis children bereft of birth cords, this young man, “couldn’t hear”. He left the interview in frustration, since the elder was not giving him the information he wanted.[21]

There is compassion as well a wit in the observation of elder above. McCloud opined that to those who were always looking for “something else, somewhere else”, “greed and impatience” was “a symptom of a deep spiritual poverty”. [22] By contrast, those at home on their land did not feel such poverty, for spiritual wealth flowed to them from the natural world, as eloquently expressed in an account of creation by Paiute doctor, Sam Wata:

When the Sun came up,

he told his people…

be happy all your life…

The little springs of water are the places from which the

silver money comes.

It comes from the sun shining on the water.

Wata’s account goes on to relate that the “silver money shining on the water” was a wealth the emigrants missed. When the first white man came to Paiute land, he looked right at it but never saw it. It was because the white man “lost himself”, Wata concluded, that he was blind to the land’s real wealth. [23]

This man “lost himself” in the way of those who experienced traditional soul loss among the Chehalis. An Upper Chehalis great grandmother told me that she had once visited a friend at a mental institution. She was horrified at the way the inmates “were paraded around like that-human beings!” She added that she couldn’t recall that there were “many lost to us that way” in the old days. Her words echo those of Upper Chehalis elder Peter Heck to Adamson in 1926. Peter Heck was the Indian Shaker bishop at Oakville when ardent assimilationist Edwin Chalcraft administered the boarding school on the Chehalis Reservation in the 1880’s. Forty years later, Heck echoed the words of the contemporary elder who spoke to me, adding that his people “only got crazy because of [the] white’s way”.[24]

When any among her people were “lost to us in this way” the Chehalis elder told me, “We worked to bring them home again”.[25] Her words reflect the traditional cure for soul loss: the cure of bringing the soul home which Native healers worked to accomplish. Indeed, even without a healer’s help, just returning to one’s place on the land might cure terrible soul-sickness. In a Chehalis incident remembered to Franz Boas in the 1920’s, a man suffering suicidal grief is restored to himself by coming to the place “where his heart is good again”.[26]

Even as the emigrants removed Indians from the places where their “hearts were good”, they spread their own disease of dislocation. Whiskus, who signed the treaty that removed the Rogue River people from their land, stated that he had not understood he agreed to such a thing-this made “his heart sick”. It was a grave sickness indeed. In the early days of the Siletz reservation to which Whiskus’ people were removed, Agent Metcalfe noted among the residents, “a depression of spirits” so serious that those who suffered from it died. [27]

Two decades later, when the Alsea on that same reservation were again due to be removed from their homes to open their land to non-Indian settlement, Alsea leader William told agent J. H. Fairchild, “Never have we done wrong to the whites-never have we killed a white man”. “Why”, William continued, “Do the Whites have sick hearts for our land?” [28] William’s question was to reverberate throughout Northwest history, as the actions of those with such “sick hearts” turned the ancient emphasis on belonging into a struggle for survival.


[1] Today Richard Cultee is an honored elder in his own right, as a recent interview article with him in the Quinault tribal newsletter indicates. His special interest is traditional basket-making. In 1975, he gave me an extensive list of traditional basket materials and dyes. Thirty years later, his renown for the artistry in making baskets he first learned from his mother has continued to grow.

[2] Thelma Adamson, manuscript collection of her field notes: “Sources of Chehalis Ethnology” (1926), in Melville Jacobs Collection of the University of Washington Library, pp. 152-153.

[3] Roy L. Wilson, Legends of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe (Bremerton, Washington: Cowlitz Indian Tribe, 2001), p. 19.

[4] There were numerous periodic floods to which this story might have referred, but versions of this story attribute the Mima Mounds to the flailing of fish beached when the floodwaters retreated. Geologically, the Mima Mounds consisted of debris left from the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

[5] Thelma Adamson, Folktales of the Coast Salish (New York: Kraus Reprint, 1969), p. 1.

[6] Dorothy Mae Rigg, “The Friendly Chehalis,” in Centralia: the First Fifty Years, ed: Herndon Smith (Tumwater, Wash.: H. J. Quality Printing, 1975), p. 12.

[7] Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, The Chinook Indians, Traders of the Lower Columbia River (Norman Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), p. 27.

[8] Harry Hobucket, “Quillayute Indian Traditions,” Washington Historical Quarterly, 25 (1934), pp. 53-54.

[9] Thelma Adamson, field notes, p. 48.

[10] Bob Callahan, ed., A Jaime de Angulo Reader (Berkeley: Turtle Island Press, l979), p. 238.

[11] David James, From Grand Mound to Scatter Creek, (State Capitol Historical Association of Washington: Olympia, l980), p. 39.

[12] Janet McCloud, “On the Trail”, in Jonathan White, ed., Talking on the Water (Sierra Club Books: San Francisco, l994), p. 252.

[13] Vernon Carstensen, ed., Pacific Northwest Letters of George Gibbs, (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1954). pp. 12-13.

[14] There is a detailed discussion of the “exterminationists” in chapter five of this work.

[15] Richard Slotkin, The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialism, 1800-1890 (New York: Athenaeum, 1985), pp. 62-63.

[16] Leroy B. Inman, Early Days on the McKenzie (Roseburg, Oregon: 1992), p. xii.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Jeanette Armstrong, “I Stand with You against the Disorder,” Yes Magazine, winter 2006, p. 35.

[19] Callahan, op. cit., p. 229.

[20] Adamson, field notes, pp. 224, 254.

[21] This incident was related to me by Del McBride, former director of the State Capitol Museum. He took this young man to visit the Makah elder in order to facilitate the latter’s fieldwork and witnessed his attempt to interview her.

[22] Janet McCloud, p. 252.

[23] Dell Hymes, “A Paiute Account of the Earth’s Beginning”, cited in “Languages and their Uses”, in The First Oregonians (Portland: Oregon Council for the Humanities, 1991), p. 35.

[24] Adamson, field notes, p. 100.

[25] These are the words of a much-respected elder I visited and interviewed several times in the early 1970’s. In keeping with the traditional modesty she expressed throughout my work with her, this elder asked me to “use my words but don’t mention my name”. I was honored by her kindness and personal generosity to me. She respectfully referred to our interviews as my “work” and after I had been visiting her for a year, she told me, “You know all those things people have been telling you around here-you should make a book of them”.

[26] Franz Boas, Chehalis Folklore, Collection of American Indian Linguistics, I, ms held by the American Philosophical Library.

[27] Robert Metcalfe, “Annual Report of the Siletz Agent”, Annual Reports1857, p. 645.

[28] E. A. Schwartz, “Sick Hearts: Indian Removal on the Oregon Coast, 1875-1881, Oregon Historical Quarterly, 92 (1991), p. 239.

2 Responses

  1. would you mind if i cited this material for a paper in my english class at southwestern illinois college (swic)?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.