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Takelma tales

Long before European settlers arrived in the Rogue Valley, American Indians told each other mythic tales about local landmarks.

The Takelmas called Mount McLoughlin, a 9,495-foot volcanic peak, Mal-si and Alwilamchaldis. Alwilamchaldis was also the name of a mythic figure who, according to legend, came up the Rogue River "making things better," said Jeff LaLande, an archaeologist and historian retired from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

It's not clear what Alwilamchaldis did to improve the area, but he may have brought salmon to the river and acorn-bearing oak trees to the land, LaLande speculated.

In another story, Alwilamchaldis fancied himself to be a warrior, but ended up causing trouble.

"He was turned into what we call Mount McLoughlin. He was immobilized way off on the edge of the valley," LaLande said.

In his mountainous form, Alwilamchaldis was said to be wearing his hair tied up and to have white make-up on his face. When Takelma warriors went on a raid, they would tie their hair in a top knot for combat. They painted their faces white to mimic grizzly bears, which can have a grizzled appearance due to fur with white or silver tips, LaLande said.

In another myth related to Mount McLoughlin, the Takelma said the mountain was home to Talsunne, or "Acorn Woman."

"She was a mythical figure who would come down in the spring and tear off pieces of her flesh to grow acorns," LaLande said.

Acorns were a staple of the Takelma diet. Tribal members collected large quantities in the late summer and early fall, shelled and cleaned the acorns, then pounded them into a meal or flour. The material was rinsed repeatedly with water to leach out the tannins. The flour or meal could form porridge, breads and cakes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The Takelma name itself means "those dwelling along the river" — a reference to the Rogue River, according to the BLM.

Other key landmarks in Takelma legends are Upper and Lower Table Rocks.

In one story, the Takelma hired Khu-khu-w, the rainmaker, to ease a drought, according to BLM.

"The weather became terribly dry. The drought lasted a long time. The Rogue River just about dried up," LaLande said.

Khu-khu-w danced on Lower Table Rock and the rain began to fall. The Takelma had a disagreement with Khu-khu-w about payment for his services, and he continued dancing, flooding the valley, LaLande said.

The Takelma asked Beaver to get Khu-khu-w down off Lower Table Rock. Beaver tried to chew down the rock formation, but had to give up because the stone was too strong, he said.

According to legend, Beaver's teeth marks are still visible as scars along the base of the formation. Khu-khu-w was turned into a cedar tree on the rocks, and his son and grandson were transformed into stone and became prominent pinnacles on the south side of Lower Table Rock, according to the BLM.

After the arrival of European settlers, battles broke out between the new immigrants and native people. The Takelma were forced onto a temporary reservation near the Table Rocks. In 1855, most Takelma were forcibly relocated to reservations in northwestern Oregon. However, some managed to stay behind, and many Takelma descendants have returned to their homeland in Southern Oregon over the decades.

LaLande said other landmarks that figure in Takelma history and legend include:

  • Bear Creek, which was called Si'kuptpat, or "dirty water."
  • Pilot Rock, known as Tan-ts'atseniphtha, or "standing rock."
  • Jackson Hot Springs, called T'akaw, or "poison lake."
  • Kelly Slough, known as Hayawak, or "place of chokecherries."
  • Timber Mountain, located west of Jacksonville and called Usiyuwot, or "deerhide bucket."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.


Archaeologists found hundreds of Indian stone flakes and tools on Hanley Farm in 2010.
Takelma storyteller Frances Johnson (Gwisgwashan) is photographed just before her death in 1934.