EARLY SETTLEMENT DAYS & INDIAN CUSTOMS

 

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EARLY SETTLEMENT DAYS and  INDIAN  CUSTOMS

(from the Marshfield Sun Special Edition -- Annual,  January 1901)

                                   _______________
                              PIONEER DAYS  IN COOS. 
                                             _____

       Empire City, The Oldest Town in the County.        
 
     In 1855 William V. Wells made a pilgrimage with a companion through
this section of Oregon and afterwards wrote a story of his journey for
Harper's, from which a few extracts follow.

                                    Empire City. 
     
      "Remounting [illegible;  we?]  struggled along through the labyrinth of
trunks, until at sundown a slight rise in the ground gave us a glimpse of
daylight through the forest.  A citizen of Empire City suddenly appeared
and paused aghast in his route at sight of two strangers.  The grip on his
trusty rifle was a little tightened as we approach, but seeing we were
immigrants, and probably not connected with any of the local issues of
Coos Bay country, he shouted:

     " ' Dern my skin, but when I heered the brush a crackin' I thought I had
ketched that cow at last.  How are ye, strangers -- bound to Coos?'

     "We reply, and after a brief interchange of news, we pursued our way. 
He pointed out, as we parted, the graves of five children who had been
crushed by the falling of a tree some twelve months before.

     "After the discovery of the coal deposits, there was a rush of some 20
families to the mineral region, most of whom cleared and claimed, under
the law of 1847, 640 acres of land each.  To avoid the danger of falling
trees, it is necessary to burn and fell all suspicious ones within a few
hundred yards of the dwelling.  One night the father heard crackling in the
direction of  a giant pine which had been steadily consuming under the
action of fire for a week past.  The family was asleep but like lightning the
danger flashed upon the settler, and arousing his wife, they seized two of
the children, and hurried the bewildered little flock into the night air.  But
the warning had come too late.  As they issued from the hut, the tree -- a
monstrous tower of wood, little lower than the cross of Trinity Church in
New York -- toppled from its center and fell to the earth.  The cabin was
directly in a line with its descent, and was smashed to atoms.  The little
mound, over which clamber a few blackberry vines, marks the lonely grave.
     'As we neared the edge of the forest, the regular strokes of an ax
resounding in echoes through the shadowy silence, showed we were nearing
our place of destination.  The horses, now quite worn down with the
wearisome route, pricked up their ears at the sound, and quickening their
pace, we issued from the woods upon the banks of a beautiful and spacious
bay, stretching some three miles directly beyond us, and about five in the
right and left.  The surrounding woods were clearly depicted in its glassy
surface, while the swelling tide  swept nobly up to the spot where we stood. 
It was the famous Coos Bay, of which some indistinct accounts had reached
San Francisco, but which, passed over in the reconnaissance of the United
States Coast Survey, had remained unexplored and almost unknown. 
Indeed, no maps or charts, save the one afterward made by myself from
rough sketches, exist of this fine sheet of water.

     "To the right lay the little town of Empire City -- every collection of
dwellings in Oregon and California is a City -- composed of some 30
houses, mostly of boards, and from the midst of  which a half-finished
wharf projected into the bay.  A hasty glance at the scene sufficed: for our
animals were already gazing wistfully at the place, with visions of corn or
barley, doubtless, rising in the dim perspective [sic].  So with as brisk a gait
as we could assume, we entered the town -- the entire population
completely electrified by our arrival, and crowding around us as curious
specimens of humanity, which in truth, we were.

     "Our friend, Mr.  Rogers, hastened out to meet us; and rescuing his
visitors from the crowd, hurried us into his store, where we were not long in
making ourselves at home.

     "Behold us now before a crackling fire of pine-knots, alternately sipping
the contents of a copious bowl of whiskey punch -- and such whiskey,
shade of Baccus! and detailing to the attentive listeners the news from '
Frisco ', as San Francisco is here familiarly termed.  The mail facilities
between Coos Bay and the great commercial metropolis of the Pacific are
extremely uncertain and by no means regular, so our arrival was a matter of
the greatest moment.

     "Mr. Rogers' store is the commercial and political headquarters of Coos
Bay.  The stout proprietor himself, a rosy-cheeked, educated Vermonter,
has held some of the most important offices in the gift of the people [sic],
and his hearty manners and good natured laughs have won for him the
reputation of the most popular man at Coos.  The store is the resort of the
inhabitants for many miles around on Sundays, when, seated on the counter,
they discuss the most
important tropics, and select goods from the assortment of our host.  The
glance around the shelves revealed the extent of his stock, which, as a racy
informant remarked in answer to my look of inquiry, consisted of ' green
groceries ' -- i. e., black thread and vinegar!

     "As the fire lighted up the interior of the rough dwelling, and brought
into bold relief the stalwart forms of men whose tastes and occupations had
led them into this corner of the world for a livelihood, it was difficult to
realize that four years ago the bare existence of such a place as Coos Bay
was unknown.

     "The evening wore away with songs and stories, jolly great pipes of
tobacco black as sooty Acheron were smoked and refitted, more logs were
piled upon the fire, and rough jokes flew around the merry circle. At last,
weary with the ride, and perhaps a little overcome by the hospitality of our
entertainers, we were shown to a species of shed, the sign over the door of
which read thus:

                  PIONEER HOTEL -- DONUTS -- WOM
                                             MEELS.

And denoted the sole public house of Empire City.  Here, we addressed
ourselves to sleep and after a round twelve hours, came out on the following
day, brisk as larks and prepared to see the lions.

      "Coos Bay is about twenty miles in length and from three to four in
width.  It is entered from the ocean -- or, rather, the ocean discharges
[printout illegible] habitants [printout illegible] by a narrow channel,
perhaps half a mile wide from land to land.  The navigation is somewhat
intricate, but not dangerous.  There is depth of water for vessels loaded to
ten or twelve feet, and numerous cargoes of coal have been taken to San
Francisco -- a distance of about four hundred miles.  The mines are some
twenty miles from the bar or entrance, and facilities already exist for the
rapid loading of vessels.  The coal, which extends over a country some
thirty miles by twenty is abundant, accessible, and of good quality.  As yet
only a few banks have been opened.  An immense trade -- that of supplying
the Pacific coast with coal -- is destined to spring up between this point and
California.

    "During our four months stay at Coos and vicinity, we took frequent
advantage of the numerous offers of our acquaintance to make excursions
across and up the bay, sometimes to join in the excitement of the chase,
salmon fishing, or surveying the interesting country about us.  The scenery
around the bay is made up of deep, silent pine and fir forests, often relieved
with the gayer-tinted foliage of the birch and maple.  Toward the ocean,
where the northwest winds prevailing in the summer months have heaped
up symmetrical mounds of sand, all traces of vegetation disappear and a
desolate expanse of white mingles in the horizon with the blue line of the
sea.  An incessant roar, mellowed by the distance into a hoarse murmur,
marks where the surf chafes among the rocks skirting the entrance to the
bay.

     "Days and weeks may pass away, and if you go beyond the small circle
of civilization around the town you will meet with no living thing but the
passive Indian squaw dragging her load of fish to the cabin, or some startled
wild beast, quickly darting out of sight into the depths of the woods."

                         Indian Dance and Burial. 
            
     An Indian dance or merry-making having been announced near the bay,
the whole available population turned out to assist at it.  Entering an open
space in the woods toward midnight, we found about thirty braves and
squaws gathered around an immense fire of pine logs, the flames from
which lit up their grotesque accoutrements [sic] and hideously painted
faces, while the surrounding forest echoing their monotonous [sic] chants,
was dimly illumined with the red glare.  For a space of twenty yards around
the fire the scene was a blaze of light, but from that point the woods receded
into an impenetrable gloom.  We dismounted, and fastening our horses to
the limbs, entered at once among them.  Here an old squaw, whose leathern
[sic] hide, naked from the waist up, lay like the folds of oiled parchment
over her attenuated form, sat rocking herself to and fro, mumbling an
indescribable jargon.  She was stone blind.  There a bevy of young ones,
tattooed and bedaubed beyond all descriptions, joined their voices to a
jumping, jolting dance, hand in hand, back and forth, toward and away from
the fire.  Beyond were seated as near to the flames as the heat would allow,
a row of Indians all fantastically dressed, beating time to the chant with
sticks, which they held crossways in their hands, and at given signals rattled
nervously together.
     "Several old chiefs seemed to act as leaders in the [printout illegible; 
festivities?] and at their signal a wild, unearthly yell arose, which, but for
the presence of my companions, I might easily have construed into a war-
whoop.  All were in motion; rocking, dancing, jumping or stepping, in
uncouth gait, to the time of the music or chant. Perspiration flowed in
streams, and the decidedly careless display f female animated nature would
have driven less interested, and perhaps more scrupulous, spectators than
ourselves from the scene.  As the flames roared their chorus with the
hideous noise of these creatures, it seemed like a dance of fiends incarnate
in some orgie of Pandemonium [sic].  Hanging up in elongated wicker
baskets, so closely woven as to be water-proof, were some dozen papooses
strapped to the straight back of these portable cradles, and nothing but the
head of the little imps visible from among the fire and dirt.
     "An Indian burial is scarcely a less remarkable scene.  Formerly the body
was burned, and the wife of the corpse killed and interred with the body. 
This, and numerous other like horrible practices, have been summarily
abolished by the settlers.  When one of the community begins to show signs
of dissolution (which is usually hastened by the sweating or other sanitary
process to which the sick are submitted) [sic], the whole tribe commences a
terrible outcry which generally lasts through the dying agony of the
sufferer.  The body is then stretched upon the ground and sprinkled with
sand and the ashes of sea-weed or kelp.  The legs are forcibly doubled up
toward the head, and the ankles tied as closely as the rigidity of the corpse
will permit, to the neck.  The relatives of the deceased shave their heads and
place the hair upon the body -- thus rolled into a heap -- together with some
shells and nutritive [sic] roots for the dead to subsist upon.  The body is
then lowered into the grave, which is made of a length to accomodate the
dimunition [sic] of size to which the defunct has been submitted. The earth
being thrown in, the whole tribe jump alternately upon it until the ground
becomes quite solid.  The baskets, clothing, spears and all personal property
is formed into a heap, packed upon the grave, and covered securely with
sticks and stones.  With a chief, the ceremonies are more impressive and
lengthy."
                       .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
                                     Fashionable Ball.  

     "For some weeks previous to Christmas great preparations had been
made for the observance of that time-honored anniversary.  Now, in
Oregon, where people reside ten miles apart, and call a man neighbor who
lives a half a day's journey away, it is not so easy to make up a fashionable
party, for sundry reasons, as in Fifth avenue, or any other of the 'close
settlements' in New York.  If a hop is to take place, weeks must be given to
prepare in: the 'store clothes' taken out, aired and brushed, old bonnets
furbished up, horses driven in from distant pasture, and saddles made ready. 
Then the nearest settlement must be applied to for a proper amount of
whisky and sugar, raisins and flour.  But on the occasion above alluded to,
great efforts were made to ave matters go off with eclat. Deacon I.-----,
residing on the ocean beach, about twenty miles to the southward of Coos
Bay, and known as the most liberal, warm-hearted old gentleman of
Southern Oregon, had appropriated, some time in advance, the right to give
the Christmas ball.  It was to last two days and two nights.  Oceans of
whisky, hills of venison and beef, no end of pies and 'sech like.'  The ladies
of all Coos county were to be there, and a fiddler from the distant point of
Port Orford itself engaged.  To this feast did all hands look forward with
secret longing and hope.  Two days beforehand the exodus for Deacon I.----
-'s began to take place, and among the invited guests were the two 'Frisco
chaps,' i. e., H----- and myself.  And on Christmas eve the ball commenced. 
There were gay roystering blades [sic] from Port Orford, select men and
distinguished individuals from all over the country, and belles from
everywhere.  Such a recherhe [sic] affair had not occurred since the
settlement of the territory.  For two nights and days the festivities
continued; and after all the dancing, riding, drinking, singing and laughing -
- and all this without sleeping, and with a determination to 'never give up' --
there were buxom forms and brilliant eyes that dared us to another break-
down!
     "I snap my fingers at all civilized Miss Nancys henceforth and forever. 
Give me, for the essence of fun and the physical ability to carry it out, a
corn-fed, rosy-cheeked, bouncing Oregon lass, with eyes bright as the rivers
that sparkle merrily on their way to the sea from those snow-clad
mountains, and hearts as light as the fresh breezes of that northern climate! I
may forget the Central American excitement; sooner or lated [sic] I shall
have forgotten the birth of an heir to the French throne; the siege of
Sebastopol bay [sic] fade away, but that Oregon ball will be ever fresh in
my memory."

                             .  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
                              Coal Deposits Then Known. 

     "The coal deposits of Coos Bay should be the subject of a separate
article, and require more space than could be devoted to them in the limits
of these pages.  A report, recently published by myself in San Francisco,
contains the outlines of what will doubtless become hereafter widely
discussed.  That the importation of coal to California via Cape Horn from
Europe and the Eastern states must eventually cease, few who are
acquainted with the facts wills deny.  A space of country about the size of
Rhode Island is a solid bed of coal, outcropping wherever a ravine or break
occurs.  The veins are from 6 to 10 feet thick. It has been satisfactorily
tested and proved to be well adapted to steamship purposes.  It is in quality
not unlike the Scotch cannel [sic], but lighter, and when unmixed with
foreign substances burns to clear red ashes.  But these are only a few of the
boundless treasures of the region of the Pacific, and which, as the country
becomes populated, are destined to taech [sic] the inhabitants of the extreme
West to rely on their own resources.  California and Oregon produce nearly
every article necessary to the comfort and subsistence of man, and it needs
but the construction of the great avenue of population - the national railroad -
to bring the country to the pinnacle of greatness and wealth.  Shall we live
to see it built?"


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