Unearthing native history

19th-century artifacts are on display at the Ashland History and Railroad Museum
Sage Hatch and Erin Ferrarelli, SOU history majors, look over artifacts recovered from recent excavations at the Plaza in Ashland. The artifacts now are on display at the Ashland History and Railroad Museum.Jamie Lusch

Before the Ashland Plaza renovation, archaeologists dug up artifacts they say proves the long-theorized presence of a Shasta Indian village where the Plaza stands now and extending south into Lithia Park.

The presence of the village, called K'Wakhakha — "Where the Crow Lights" — in the Shasta language, was recorded in memoirs of a settler, Capt. Thomas Smith, but never substantiated until this past winter, when archaeologist-historian Jeff LaLande found an array of choppers, scrapers, hammer stones and obsidian flakes.

The artifacts, along with others found in 1987 and 2002 in Lithia Park digs, 100 yards away, are on display to the public for the first time, at Ashland History and Railroad Museum, 258 A St., until the end of August.

The discovery was a thrill for LaLande, an Ashlander and retired archaeologist for the U.S. Forest Service.

"It was great to be able to say those old-timers were right on the button," he laughed. "It proves for sure that Smith was correct. It's exciting to me there are still portions of the original village still here."

Artifacts from pioneer days were found in the dig area above the native tools. The most complete and fascinating items, says Southern Oregon University history major Sage Hatch, are a glass inkwell and a once-copper-plated spur, thought to have originated near the beginning of the 20th century.

Hatch, born and raised on the Siletz Reservation on the Central Oregon coast, tells the story of his ancestor named Hoxie Simmons who fought on the side of the Takelmas in the Rogue Valley Indian Wars of the 1850s, shortly before tribal members were removed from the village (and all southwest Oregon) to live at Siletz. (Correction: Details of Hatch's life and that of Simmons have been corrected.)

He and Erin Ferrarelli, an SOU history-anthropology junior and the museum's archivist, curated the exhibit for display, along with Mark Teskov, an SOU anthropology professor. They explored many boxes of artifacts at the SOU Laboratory of Anthropology and chose the most interesting ones to tell the tale of the area before it became Ashland.

"It was very exciting and fun to speculate who wore the spur or used the inkwell," Hatch says. "It leaves you with a lot of questions."

Capt. Smith in 1851 met the last chief of the Shasta village, Typsu Tyee (tyee means "chief"), just before white settlement, says museum director Victoria Law.

"They were both strong, powerful men and decided not to kill each other. They became friends. But soon Typsu was complaining to Smith that settlers were putting in stakes and claiming all the land, so they should at least pay for it. The settlers laughed at him."

The Rogue Indian War broke out in 1853, leading to the creation of the Table Rock Reservation in northwest Jackson County. Then, LaLande notes, after the last part of the war in 1855-56, all natives in the region were removed to the coast. Typsu was killed in 1853 by other Shasta Indians.

"By 1854, the village no longer had the sounds of people knocking on rocks to fashion tools and using them to butcher elk," LaLande says.

"In that year," says Law, "Abel Helman built the Ashland Flour Mill, between the site of the digs. In 1852, he built a sawmill on Water Street at Central, by the creek."

Also new at the museum is a flour sack stating, "Ashland Roller Mills, 49 Lbs, Our Patent." It was found behind the walls of a house on Iowa Street in the 1970s and, says Law, is only one of two in existence. Displayed with it are historic, penned receipts and letters from the mill, which stood at the entry to the present Lithia Park but was demolished over a century ago. They are loaned from the collection of Joe Peterson, author of "Ashland, Images of America."

Relics from the Lithia Park digs include finely worked projectile points of obsidian, which likely came from Glass Mountain in Modoc lands south of Klamath Falls.

The Modocs likely traded for salmon that were so abundant in Bear Creek, even well into the 20th century, says Law, that they had to put up signs saying "please don't step on the salmon."

The exhibit also shows newly found photos of Sergeant Sambo, a Shasta Indian from the Ashland village who, along with other family members, was held captive by settlers who feared attacks of natives during the war. They were liberated by his father, named Sambo, when he killed one of the settlers, says Law.

The Ashland settlers of 1852 were not the Shastas' first encounter with Euro-Americans, says Law, noting that Peter Ogden and explorers of the Hudson Bay Co. had arrived a quarter-of-a-century earlier. They systematically exterminated an estimated 1,000 beavers from Bear Creek, she says, so as to keep the creatures from attracting Yankees to the territory, which was then being claimed by the British.

Admission to the museum is $3 for adults and $1 for children.



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