Program 306 – Turtle Island Storytellers

Oregon Trail's Barlow Road. Photo by Lori Cannon, 2005

Oregon Trail's Barlow Road. Photo by Lori Cannon, 2005. Courtesy TrekEarth.

Darlene Foster

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Darlene Foster:
Both my mother, Matilda Mitchell, and my father, Louis, and my auntie May Joan. They always told stories about how my ancestors knew before the pioneers came that they would come in they would flow in like a river.

Arlie Neskahi:
Before the first pioneers arrived, the Warm Springs people were singing songs foretelling their coming – songs of the great snake that carries people, songs of the metal fire. Today’s turtle island storyteller, Darlene Foster, learned these first contact stories from her mother, who learned them from her grandmother.

It was foretold that the pioneers would come, that they would have eyes that were the color of the sky and they would twinkle like the stars.

My mother would say, “luk, luk.” (l) and when you think of somebody that’s got a tan and has blue eyes you kind of see that with the twinkly eyes. And they would flow in like a river. And that they were to sing a song to them when they came. And when they sang this song to them they were to kneel and sing this song, so as not to frighten them. And they would bring with them the knowledge that we could stand up to a tree and knock it over. That they would bring a snake that would carry the people and a big bird that would carry the people to see the great white chief. And the metal fire.

And when you think about how, the pioneers arrived in a long wagon train that it would have looked like a river flowing if you had seen it from above.

And when I talk to the schools about it, I would have the children ask, I mean try and guess, “What do you think, that standing up to a tree and knocking it over would be?” And that would be the chainsaw. And then of course the snake that carries the people would be the train. And the plane would be the bird that would carry the people back to see the great white chief. And that’s our leaders, a lot of our tribal leaders fly back and forth to Washington D.C., and then the metal fire is the electricity.

Anyway, some of the people saw the pioneers arriving and, and they said, “au payenawee (l)”. And that means, “They’re here. They’re arriving.” And so they watched the people from the wagon train lower their wagons. And ah, it wasn’t until one of them broke away and tumbled and fell and a woman and a child were, killed, that the men grabbed their horsehair ropes, and they went up and they helped lower the wagons down, and then they helped float them across the Deschutes River there, in that area known as Shears Bridge.

White Falls Near Tygh Valley. Photo by Susan Bruce, 2003

White Falls Near Tygh Valley. Photo by Susan Bruce, 2003. Courtesy A2Z Gorge Info.

And they had a bridge that they would, put across the river and take down, kind of like a drawbridge for their own protection. You know, they didn’t want people invading them, and so they always had this bridge they would put up and take down. Anyway, it took a day and a half to get all of the pioneers from one side to the other because that bridge could only hold one adult and one child

And then our people, our ancestors fed the pioneers because they felt so sorry for them because a lot of them had rags on their feet, tied to their feet. And a lot of the women had torn and tattered dresses on. And they had hardly any food. A lot of their provisions that were left were like the coffee beans and the macaroni and I think some flour.

But anyway our ancestors rolled out their tule mats, miles and miles of tule mat. And they fed these pioneers the salmon and the eels and the roots and the berries. And they in turn, the pioneer, gave our people the coffee beans and the macaroni.

And kind of like my wampums here, they strung their macaroni on, you know, like the wampums. And, when they went to bed they still had what they thought were wampums on and, when they woke up all they had was this piece of string or whatever around their neck. And it’s like, “Well, what kind of wampums did those people give us anyway?” And then they boiled and boiled and boiled those coffee beans, but they never got soft. They kept wondering, you know, “What kind of beans did they give us anyway? You know, they don’t even get soft.”

One of the things that my mother would add later, I think it was her grandmother was a young child at the time. And she related to her how she crawled up on the rocks there at, Shears Bridge and was peeking up at the pioneers. They always put their wagons in a circle like that. She related to my mother, “They must be religious people because, they’re dancing,” Because you know, in our Longhouse the dancing is in a circle And so she thought, “Well, they must be religious people then, because they were dancing most of the night.”

They took some of the men from the tribe and they helped blaze the trail to the area that’s now known as Oregon City. So a lot of our ancestors helped blaze what I believe is now known as the Barlow Trail.

I don’t know if it was my great grandfather or my great, great grandfather, when he came back he had, a bag of coins that he was given for helping blaze the trail. And his wife said to him, “What are you going to do with that? You’re not a woman! You can’t, put it on your dress. You don’t wear a dress that you can put it on!” And he just said to her, you know, “This is going to be really important someday. We’ll be able to get food with it and blankets, or whatever.” And our family had those coins on a necklace for years.

Back when they were reenacting the Oregon Trail, Oregon Historical Society did ask my mother, Matilda Mitchell, and my aunts, Nettie Shellway and Sylvia Wallulatin, if they would come and sing those songs that foretold the pioneers coming, when they would arrive in Tygh Valley. And so we went down there to Tygh Valley. And that was really a wonderful experience, because I remember there were a lot of tears in the audience when my mother sang that song, which made me believe that a lot of the people that were in the audience were probably descendants of the people that actually came on the Oregon Trail. And then later on they asked them and the rest of the elders in our tribe to come and sing that song again at Clackamet Park. And so they felt really honored they were able to do that.

Anyway, so that’s my story, about how my ancestors knew that the pioneers would be coming because it was foretold to them.