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Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers
Chapter XX


THEIR winter habitations are constructed chiefly, of mats and poles, covered over with grass and earth; and are made very, commodious, comfortable, and roomy. The inside being dug about a foot or two below the surface of the ground, a precaution which adds much to their warmth. They are invariably open at the ridge pole all along, and the reason is obvious; for without any chimney, the smoke by this means has a free vent upwards. These Iodgings resemble in appearance the roof of a common dwelling-house removed from the walls and placed on the ground; the fires are made in the centre, directly under the ridge pole, and about six or eight feet apart, and are in proportion to the number of families who live under the same roof; each family having generally one fire. The doors are but few, and situate to suit convenience; in the front, in the back, or the gable ends, and are merely oblong holes, over which mats are suspended by means of a wooden hinge, which mat or door must be lifted up and down every time a person goes in or out.

Although these dwellings have neither partition nor division in any of them, yet the property of each individual, the privacy of each family, and the place each occupies, are so well secured and ascertained as to afford to a rude people all the advantages, and even conveniences of a more complicated building. These dwellings are generally long and narrow, and contain each from one to five or six families, whose winter supplies of provisions are considered as one common stock, and as such are served out in winter by each family in turn, until the whole is consumed.

We must now relate the manner in which these people pass the summer season, and provide food for the winter. As soon as the snow begins to disappear in the spring, the winter camps break up, and the whole tribe disperse here and there into small parties or families; and in this unsettled manner they wander about till the middle of June, when they all assemble again in large bands on the banks of the different rivers, for the purpose of fishing during the summer season. Here, then, their fish barriers are constructed, by the united labour of the whole village or camp assembled in one place. The salmon being then in the utmost abundance, no sooner are the barriers finished than one or more of the principal men are appointed, by general consent, to superintend each. The person or persons thus chosen divide the fish every morning, and settle all matters respecting the barrier and fish for the current year. Their authority is law in all those matters till the end of the fishing season, which is generally about the beginning of October. During the season the camp is divided into four parties, for the various purposes of daily life, and of laying in a stock of food for the approaching winter. The men are divided into two parties; one for hunting, and the other for fishing: and of the women also, one party cure the fish, another collect roots and berries. All these different productions are dried and seasoned in the sun, and require much attention and labour. The fish when properly cured is packed up into large bundles or bales; the roots and berries into bags made of rushes. The stock for the winter, thus daily and weekly produced, is then, during the nights, conveyed in secret, and put in caches; that is, hidden under ground among the rocks; each family having its share apart, secure from wild beasts and the eye of thieves. During the continuance of the fish season, the Indian camp is all life. Gambling, dancing, horse-racing, and frolicking, in all its varied forms, are continued without intermission; and few there are, even the most dull and phlegmatic, who do not feel, after enjoying so much hilarity, a deep regret on leaving the piscatory camp on these occasions.

As soon as the fish season is over, the Indians again all withdraw into the interior or mountains, as in the spring, and divide into little bands for the purpose of hunting the various animals of the ehace. In their mode of ensnaring the deer and other animals, they are generally very successful Exclusive of hunting these animals with their guns, bows, and arrows, and running them down with their horses, which latter practice is a favourite amusement, they frequently select a valley or favourable spot of ground between two mountains, having a narrow outlet or pass at one end; and the better to decoy the unwary game into it, bushes are planted on each side of the pass, contracting, as it were, the passage as it advances into the form of a funnel, until, at the outlet, it becomes quite narrow. Here the animals, being pressed forward by their pursuers, fall an easy prey to those who in ambush await their arrival, and by whom they are generally all killed while struggling to extricate themselves from the snare.

The Indians, after passing a month or six weeks in this roving state, congregate again into large bands for the purpose of passing the winter on the banks of small rivers, where wood is convenient and plentiful During this season they remain in their habitations, constructed as already described; nor do they break up their winter camps till about the 1st of February. During this cold and tedious period, they chiefly subsist on the stock laid in during the summer season, and in severe winters, when little can be obtained from the chace, they are reduced to great extremes before the snow disappears, or the spring invites them to rove about again.

Their food is boiled in watape kettles, a mode common to all the aborigines throughout the continent. The process is simple, and similar to that practised by the Chinooks and other tribes along the Pacific. The dish or kettle being placed on the ground, and nearly filled with water, the meat, fish, or other viand, is cut or torn into small pieces, and after being put into the kettle, some heated stones, by the help of a wooden tongs, are immediately thrown in also, which is no sooner done than the water in the dish is in a state of ebullition. After a few minutes' boiling the stones are taken out and instantly replaced by others, also red hot, which second set generally suffices to complete the process. The contents are then served up, and each individual receives his portion on a piece of bark or mat. The broth, in which the food is boiled, is likewise carefully dealt round with a wooden ladle into bark or wooden dishes, and is, with all the ashes and dirt incident to the process, considered as the most delicious part of the repast. Their culinary vessels are seldom washed or cleaned. The dog's tongue is the only dish-cloth known.

Roots and vegetables of every description are cooked during the summer by means of furnaces in the open air; they are then baked on stones, formed into small cakes, and dried in the sun, after which the whole is carefully laid by for winter use. And while speaking of a furnace and baking, we ought not to omit stating how they bake their bread, and what kind of bread they generally make use of.

On the pines of this country there is a dark brown moss which collects or grows about the branches. This moss is carefully gathered every autumn, when it has the appearance of dirty coarse wool. It is soaked in water, pressed hard together, and then cooked in an oven or furnace, from which it comes forth in large sheets like slate, but supple and pliable, resembling pieces of tarpauling, black as ink, and tasteless; and when cut with a knife it has a spotted or marbled appearance, owing to the number of small sprigs of wood, bark, or other extraneous substances, unavoidably collected with the moss in taking it from the trees. This cake when dried in the sun becomes as hard as flint, and must always be soaked in water before use. It is generally eaten with the raw fat o animals, as we use bread and butter. It is viscous and clammy in the mouth, with but little taste. Thus prepared it will keep for years; is much liked by the natives, and sometimes eaten by the whites. It is called squill-ape.

We now come to their warlike weapons and manner of fighting. Generally speaking, they are rather a trafficking commercial people than a nation of warriors; yet, when called to war, they are resolute and brave.

Their implements of warfare are guns, bows, and arrows (in the use of which they are very expert), shields, knives, and lances, and a bludgeon, for close combat, called spampt. This deadly weapon is made in the following manner :—A piece of hard wood, about nine inches long, and half an inch in diameter, of a cylindrical form, resembling a short rule, is tightly covered over with a piece of raw hide, which being large at one end forms a bag, in which is enclosed a round stone of the size of a goose-egg.. This has the appearance of a ball at the end of the staff: the space between them about an inch, serving as a joint; the other end is tied round the wrist of the right hand with a thong. An Oakinacken thus accoutred, and mounted on his fleetest steed, is ready for action.

The hot bath, council, and ceremony of smoking the great pipe before war, is always religiously observed. Their laws, however, admit of no compulsion, nor is the chief's authority implicitly obeyed on these occasions; consequently, every one judges for himself; and either goes or stays as he thinks proper. With a view, however, to obviate this defect in their system, they have instituted the dance, which answers every purpose of a recruiting service. As soon, therefore, as war is resolved upon, a large ring or circle is marked out, into which the war chief enters; the belligerent declaration is published in a loud voice, and the great war-dance commenced, which is carried on with much spirit and shouting; every man, therefore, who enters within this ring, and joins in the dance, thereby pledges himself, and is, according to the laws of the tribe, in honour bound to assist in carrying on the war, or in other words, is a soldier, and bound to obey the great war chief.

Stratagem and ambuscade, so peculiar to all savages, is always resorted to by these people, who dislike an open attack; and for the want of proper discipline and subordination, never stand face to face in the fight if they can avoid it. If they fail to surprise their enemy in the darkness of night, or Aft dawn of morning, which is their f&vourite mode of attack, they skirmish at a distance, occasionally dashing at full speed near enough to have a flying shot at each other, without any kind of order, shouting and yelling all the time in the most wild and frantic manner, capering and cow-ring on their horses to evade their adversaries' fire. If one on either side happens to fall, a rush is made for the scalp, which brings the foes into close contact. The firing with guns then ceases, and the quick shooting of arrows commences; but the arrows soon cease also, and the spear comes into play; but this in turn is soon laid aside, and gives place to the bloody knife and deadly sparnpt. These are the last weapons used, except, perhaps, a few random shots at retiring. This last stage of the encounter or conflict is often severely contested, but does not last long. The moment a chief or principal man falls, fighting gives place to mourning; they get discouraged, and instantly fly without disgrace, and the battle is ended.

The number slain on these occasions is comparatively few; and when the conquerors bear off in barbarous triumph a dozen of scalps or so, it is thought a great victory. Their treaties of peace, though made with the utmost solemnity, are but the words of children, no sooner uttered than forgotten. With all this barbarity, however, they are kind and indulgent to their slaves. War not being their trade, there are but few slaves among them, and these few are adopted as children, and treated in all respects as members of the family.

Next in order are their funeral ceremonies, mourning, and manner of interment. When a chief, or: other principal personage, is on his deathbed, he is surrounded by his relatives, who observe a strict silence and calm indifference while the zealous tla-quill-augh goes through the solemnities of his office; but the moment the patient dies, the house or lodge is abandoned, and loud clamorous mourning commences: the whole camp, during the first burst of lamentation, join in the tumultuous uproar. This lasts for some hours without intermission, and then gives way to a dead silence; during which the body, wrapped in a new garment, is removed to the open air, and the house or lodge is razed to the ground. Every now and then the mourning bursts forth anew. The moment one begins, the whole instantly join; the cry being reinforced by the howling of dogs and screaming of children. A few hours after death the body is interred. For this purpose, a round hole is dug in some convenient spot, and the body is placed in a sitting posture, but inclining a little backwards, with the knees raised up nearly to the breast. All the most valuable trinkets and trophies of war possessed by the deceased are laid on his breast, supported by his knees, and interred along with the body. If any of these articles be withheld from the grave, the spirit of the deceased, according to the popular belief, can' never be at rest; consequently, the custom is religiously observed. After the grave is filled up with earth and stones, a small pile of wood is placed over it, and several articles are suspended from the pile, indicating the quality of the deceased. If he be a warrior, the bow and scalp mark his grave; if a hunter, an animal is portrayed thereon; the spear and salmon in like manner point out the fisherman's place of rest. Immediately after the interment, all the valuable property, such as horses, guns, bows, and other things not put into the grave, are destroyed and scattered around it as a sacrifice. The near relations then cut their hair short, scarify their flesh, besmear their faces and bodies, clothe themselves in old tattered garments, and abandon themselves to excessive mourning for many months together; strictly taking care not to mention the name of the deceased.

If a husband dies, the widow, according to custom, must remain two years single; during which time she never paints, combs her hair, nor puts on new clothing. After some months, their loud lamentation is confined to the morning and evening; but in their grief, during the first months, they howl incessantly and desperately, as if excess of grief were to be measured by excess of noise. Yet no sooner are these wild fits over than they seem all of a sudden to forget their anguish, and at once resume a tranquil, placid, and cheerful countenance.

They have no place appropriated for the reception of the dead; but their graves are generally, on some eminence, rocky ground, or stony place, and the spot is always held sacred.

Among these people there are no regular punishments instituted for crimes or offences of any kind; yet all transgressions are cognizable and punished by their laws, so as to ensure security to life and property. Theft, in particular, is held in the utmost abhorrence, so that it rarely occurs among them. The property of each individual, even of the slave, is held sacred.

They perfectly understand the nature of barter and traffic, and may be called, in their way, a commercial and trading people; but, like all Indians, they cannot resist the temptation of European articles, and will give everything they possess for the toys and trifles of the whites. They are a sedate and docile people, and very susceptible of improvement, and could, with comparatively little trouble, I am confident, be brought round to a state of civilization. Their superstitions seem to be the only barrier between them and the attainment of a more refined state.


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