AN ESSAY ON NATIVE AMERICANS IN THE
ROGUE RIVER AREA
Written by Karen Rose on May 25, 2002
for the Hugo Neighborhood Association & Historical Society
Native inhabitants date back as far as
10,000 years ago in this area. They lived in semi-permanent villages during the winter and
then broke up into smaller bands during fall, spring and summer to hunt, fish and gather
in the neighboring foothills. During their time away from their village, they lived in
temporary camps in brush houses. I believe the Hugo area was the site of one of these
temporary camps. It is alive with the preferred black acorn trees and close to both Mt.
Sexton and Red Mountain where upland game is and was abundant. Also, numerous creeks are
present here as a source of water. Not named then, but Bummer and Quartz creeks are two
major perennial creeks in the Hugo area. The 1855 U.S. General Surveyor Offices map
documents an Indian trail going straight through the Hugo area.
There were two main groups of Indians in the Rogue River area, the original Takelma
Indians speaking Penatian and the Athapascan speaking Da-ku-be-te-de and
Tal-tuc-tun-te-de. The Athapascans migrated from Alaska and Canada about a thousand years
ago. They moved into the areas not already inhabited by the Takelmas mainly along the
Applegate River and Galice Creek.
The bloody Rogue River Wars of the 1850s, reduced these people from 9,500 to 2,000
in six years before they were removed from their homeland to the reservations in the
north. Local Euro-American immigrants joined in groups known as "volunteers"
with the sole purpose of exterminating the native Indians. David Sexton, longtime pioneer
in the Hugo area was a leader of one of these groups of "volunteers". By 1856,
the Taylor and Jumpoff Joe Creek band was comprised of 14 men, 27 women and 19 children.
The Takelma territory bordered in the east by the Cascades, to the south as far as
Ashland, to the north just below the Umpqua River, and west to the Applegate River and
Galice Creek areas. Our knowledge of these peoples comes from native informants and in
large part from various archaeological studies of villages in the area. Agness Pilgrim is
the oldest living Takelma in the area and daughter of the last Takelma chief.
The Takelma semi-subterranean houses found in their winter villages were rectangle in
shape and partially built to a depth of from 1 1-½ feet below the ground. It was
about 12 feet wide and 20 feet long with a fire pit in the middle. The siding was made
from cedar or sugar pine planks in an upright position.
The Applegate and Illinois people lived along the tributaries of the Rogue River, while
the Takelmas lived along the main stem of the Rogue where fishing and hunting was better.
There were three main villages along the Applegate: in the upper reaches of the river near
present day Applegate Reservoir, at the confluence of Little Applegate with the main
Applegate river and at the mouth where the Applegate joins the Rogue river. The Applegate
Athapascans were known as the Da-ku-be-te-de.
The Galice Creek Athapascans known as the Tal-tuc-tun-tu-de lived where Galice Creek joins
the Rogue River, their village lying on both sides of the river.
The Shasta Costa band of Tututni Indians occupied an area along the lower Illinois River,
as well as adjacent to the Rogue River from Agness to Big Bend to the western boundary of
Takelma territory near Grave Creek. There were 33 villages in their territory.
USE OF FIRE
One of the most important tools for survival and subsistence was the use of fire by these
native inhabitants. The reasons for the use of fire included game drives, gathering of
acorns, hazel nuts, tarweed seeds, grass seeds, insects, root and berry propagation,
procurement of sugar pine sap, snake control, preparation for tobacco planting,
enhancement of basketry materials, warfare, communication and ceremonial purposes as well
as cooking, warmth and light.
Fires were set during spring, summer and fall for various reasons in various locations.
They were usually set by "fire specialists" who understood the importance of
wind direction, temperature and what impact the fire would have on different plants and
animals. They managed their environment by fire to obtain the best harvest and enhance
their winter store of food.
The Takelma would light fires in the
shape of a horseshoe to drive deer toward the bottom of the semi-circle where the women
stood rattling deer bones and the men waited to shoot them. They also would use this
method to drive the deer into elaborately constructed brush fences where they could be
taken in snares. The Takelma also regularly burned their hunting area to produce better
grass with which to attract wild game and maintain their habitat by reducing the
Hillsides of the Rogue Valley were
burned around oak groves to clear the underbrush and vegetation to protect the trees
existence and make it easier to gather the fallen acorns. These fires also killed young
conifers which if left alone would have grown taller than the oaks and overtopped them.
In midsummer when the hazelnuts were
ripe, burning of these areas would hasten the nuts to drop and be roasted. The nuts were
easier to collect without the competing vegetation.
The sowing of Indian oats or tarweed
began in midsummer with the burning of the stalks. Yellow-flowered tarweed was very sticky
and the burning would remove the pitchy substance. At night, 4 or 5 unmarried men standing
at a distance of about 100 yards apart would set fire to the prairie. The next day, they
would use long paddles to harvest the seeds by hitting the stalks, directing the falling
seeds into shallow baskets.
Grass fields on the valley floors were
burned every summer and then the Takelma collected the grasshoppers and white larvae of
yellowjackets. They were dried, ground and then mixed with grass seeds for eating.
Berry and root collecting areas were
burned after harvesting to not only fertilize the soil but eliminate competing vegetation.
Roots were dug-up with long sticks. The Blue Camas was an important part of the Takelma
diet. Berries grew in upper elevations and were valued greatly due to their sweet sugar
taste. Both the berry and root gathering areas were best managed by seasonal burning.
In the fall, the Takelma would burn
the base of sugar pine trees to get the sap. The fires would also cause the pinecones to
open so pine seeds could be collected. The sap was another fine source of sugar.
During the summer months, snakes would
move closer to the rivers where it was cooler so the Takelma burned the hillsides around
their villages to control them.
The only plant grown by seed by the
Takelma was the tobacco plant. An area would be chosen and cleared of brush by burning
which would leave a great bed of ashes in which to sow tobacco seeds.
In order to obtain the best basketry
materials, areas of beargrass, hazel shoots and iris were burned periodically. Beargrass
was very important in making snare ropes and a valuable trading item among other Indians.
Once again the practice of burning removed competing vegetation.
With "volunteers" hot on
their trail, Takelmas would set fires to not only cover their path but slow their pursuers
down because of the heat and smoke. Smoke also made good cover through which to shoot
Fires were set as a means of
communicating or signaling. At the head of Galice Creek, the Galice would set fires on the
mountaintops to warn of approaching enemies. Fires were also set as a signal that a hunter
had made a big kill. The fire was an invite to come and share in the bounty.
For ceremonial reasons, the Tututni
Indians set fires on the hills at the mouth of the Rogue River every spring and fall to
invite salmon to enter the river.
Atwood, Kay & Dennis Gray
People and The River: A History of the Human Occupation of the Middle Course of
the Rogue River of Southwestern Oregon
Volume I, January 1996, United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land
Management, Medford District Office.
Beckham, Stephen Dow
Requiem for a People - The Rogue Indians and the Frontiersmen
University of Oklahoma Press, 1971.
Boyd, Robert (Editor)
INDIANS, FIRE and THE LAND in the Pacific Northwest
Oregon State University Press, 1999
Overview of the Environment of Native Inhabitants of Southwestern Oregon, Late
Report prepared for USDA Forest Service, Medford, Oregon, 1996.