55 Plus: An Imperfect Paradise – Part II

We continue to consider the earlier history of the East Linn Museum area.  We first wondered what the first white pioneers encountered when they arrived in the early 1850s.  They thought they had come to a virtually empty land as we have seen.  However, people had lived here but their numbers had been much reduced by disease.  We turn now to what we find in Oregon Archaeology, a book describing different excavated sites.

First, a couple of admissions: For our area, the archaeological record in Oregon Archaeology is more limited than we wish.  Still, we can borrow from adjoining areas. Secondly, the Santiam people relied on wood, reeds and grasses for building their shelters, basket making and fashioning some clothing.  These materials don’t survive long in our humid climate and are very unlikely to hold up well for archaeological context.

And so, what are we going to glean?  Some dates, for one thing.

A site the East Linn Museum can lay some claim to is the Cascadia Caves, up the South Santiam River to the east. The caves are located on the river’s north side, high up.  Two digs took place, one in the 1960s when plans were being made to flood the area behind a dam and a second time in 1988 after it had been decided not to flood Cascadia but to put the caves on the National Register of Historic Places.  The caves contained deposits 13 feet deep of archaeological value which included what would become prototypical stone points and also petroglyphs.  The points notably associated with the caves, named Cascadia Points, are willow leaf in shape, about two inches long and made of chert, an agate type of rock, according to photographs. They’ve been found in other upland sites and are believed to have been used with atlatls. Those throwing sticks gave extra power to a shaft with a point fastened to one end when flung at prey.  Atlatls preceded bows and arrows by thousands of years.

Stone food processing tools like mortars and pestles, metates and manos, scrapers and drills along with particles of bone, seeds and hazel nut shells led archaeologists to believe the caves were used early on for generalized food processing and wood working.  Later the focus turned to processing game. Deer put venison on the menu throughout the site, but evidence of fish was not found.

Dates taken from carbon fourteen tests on samples of charred wood and other organic material rated at 8,650, 7,230 years and 5,650 years before the present time. In comparison, a Clovis point generally dated at 13,000 years old was found near Fern Ridge and recently an Idaho site called Cooper’s Ferry has been dated as older than 16,000 years.  Too, 7,700 years ago Mt. Mazama blew up leaving Crater Lake and spreading ash here.

How long people have been in the new world is still debated.  However, finding sites like Cooper’s Ferry and Cascadia Caves are real luck.  The early people are usually thought of as wanderers seeking areas of opportunity. They are often depicted as big game hunters taking mammoth, mastodon, ground sloth, the American horse and sending them into extinction with the help of volcanic activity and climate change. Likely these people acted as most adaptive humans have done, they ate what they could get with traps, snares, spears and atlatls and serendipity.  There is no reason to think they would turn down huckleberries like those favored by the Kalapuyans either.

It is interesting to think that people were somewhere around here 9,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age when glacial melt waters impounded behind ice dams burst through, flowing up the lowlands of the Willamette Valley from the Columbia River country.  That lake later contracted leaving behind the bogs and marshes favored by the Kalapuyan bands who would settle the tributaries feeding the Willamette.  We can easily call these developing semi sedentary homesteaders the Camas Culture because one marker they left behind was the camas oven, often datable from charred bulbs. Basically, a camas oven was a pit lined with red hot stones on which camas bulbs and other food stuffs were layered with leaves and earth and hot stones to make the oven, which slowly roasted the camas left to cool over several days.  Archaeologically, an oven left behind was a configuration of fire cracked rocks and remnants, perhaps, of burnt plant material.  Such an oven was excavated a few years ago on Oak Heights in Sweet Home.

This brings us to another archaeological site nearby, the 124 mounds between Brownsville and Albany.  They are not generally burial mounds, although some graves are associated with them.  In an excavated one, however, two men were found with a whalebone club between them and twenty-five points among their bones.  The question arose, were the points grave offerings or were the men victims carrying their sources of death into the graves.

Many of the mounds turned out to be middens built up by years of household occupation in the same spot or from having camas ovens repeatedly set on top of older oven sites.  The Calapooia mounds date back about 1500 years to the early half of the 800s.

Back to the early pioneers, the Ames, Gilliland, Pickens and Wiley families.

When the Ames called their stopping place “Paradise Camp” none of them likely recognized the management Santiam and other Kalapuyan bands had used to shape the meadows of the Willamette Valley and its tributaries.  Considering the boggy nature of the big valley, first coming pioneers saw the cleared foothills as drier and more desirable when they traveled up tributaries like the Calapooia and Santiam. Manageable meadows proved attractive to settlers who did not understand these were products of human ingenuity.

These meadows were the result of seasonal burnings now thought to have been controlled by Kalapuyan women.  Low intensity fires cleared the meadows of many unwanted plants while encouraging others which produced edible seeds and sometimes actually flourished better when fire was used.  Too, these fires cleared out the brush under the more resistant oak trees and made collecting acorns easier.  Along with camas, acorns ranked high on the menu.  And more importantly, fire promoted the spread of camas lilies.

Later, pioneers who settled on fire-cleared meadows complained about how fast many filled in by encroaching brush and trees.  Meanwhile, their hogs thrived while they uprooted camas bulbs and munched on acorns, both staples of the Santiam.

Native American use of fire in managing the lands around them is now more recognized.  Likely a dividend of burning appreciated by the Santiam and others, roasted grasshoppers, tasty tidbits would not have been relished by the settlers either.  But the Kalapuyan people had had thousands of years in which to adapt to ecological advantages like this use of fire.

But, before white settlers moved in was all peaceful?  No.

Around two thousand years ago, the proliferation of small, very sharp obsidian points came into the record signaling a switch from use of the atlatl to the bow and arrow.  The bow and arrow had real advantages in comparison with the atlatl or throwing stick.  When an atlatl was used a person became visible because the user had to have room in which to fling it sending the shaft on its way.  With the bow and arrow, the user could act from concealment and did not have to be in the open.  Importantly, a smaller point on an arrow shaft could be as effective as the larger, heavier spear point used with the atlatl.  The use of obsidian to make them meant a higher production rate calling for less material, a win/win especially for the more aggressive.

The archaeological record shows how the Kalapuyan reliance on a dependable staple, camas, led to increased populations which promoted emphasis on territorial prerogatives which in turn led to warfare over who owned what.  Different bands might be lenient on trespassers in some instances, but if it involved taking of game, punishment could be lethal.

Some Kalapuyans hunted other bands, too, like the Umpqua and Tualatin.  They hunted various Kalapuyan neighbors for enslavement.  Slaves were welcomed products for other tribes on the Columbia.

People here had several places from which to obtain the black, volcanic glass that was becoming increasingly desired.  They could trade for it or trek to eastern Oregon sources like Newberry Crater and Obsidian Cliffs.  Tests now show archaeologists where sources for different obsidian used in tool making can be found.

Although obsidian may have become the stone of first choice, points for weapons and other tools still used other types of stone.  Opportunity lay on gravel bars where agate, jasper, agatized petrified wood and fine-grained basalt can still be found.  Basalt is usually associated by us with the stone bowls, pestles, metates and mauls and other heavier tools such as those found in the East Linn Museum.  Like most rocks around here, basalt is of volcanic origin and predominates in the Cascade Range.

Now these stone implements are a reminder of people who once lived here.  Because of diseases they had never encountered, they lacked protective immunity.  Those who remained had to recreate their past as best they could without assistance of the memory keepers who fell victim to illness introduced by outsiders, the white traders, trappers, sailors and, possibly, missionaries who brought unexpected change.

The settlers who came here from the east, the Ames, Gilliland, Pickens and Wiley families included, believed they acted in line with their government’s wishes to control territory recently acquired by treaty from Great Britain.  They saw our area as being open to homestead claims of 320 acres for a single man and 640 acres if he had a wife.  To them the land looked empty and available.

Little regard was given to the history of a people who had lived here for thousands of years. We have grown more sympathetic and archaeology helps understand a part of the physical past but much has been lost.  What, we wonder, caused fish not to be found in the cultural layers of the Cascadia Caves and in the Calapooia Middens?  We have missed a richness of life not reobtainable.

When the Ames family came upon the Sweet Home meadows and called their stopping point “Paradise Camp” they did not realize a paradise was being lost by the few Santiam people remaining. Even yet, we can see something of their passage when a stone artifact perhaps hundreds or even thousands of years old is found and when we see camas blooming in fields and along roadways as blue as the bluest sky.

Still, we must add, our knowledge at the museum is scant and it can be changed by findings of new records of a truly serendipitous archaeological dig.

Come and visit.