When the River Ran Wild!–Excavating the Memories, Customs and Ways of the Mid-Columbia Tribes

Earlier this week, the winners of the 2022 Oregon Book Awards were announced. While the awards honor books by Oregon writers rather than books specifically about Oregon, a fair number of the award finalists are usually set in the state or explore some aspect of it.

Soon, I’ll be posting a review of one of this year’s finalist, rough house by Tina Ontiveros (this site’s first book review), but today I’m thinking of a wonderful and unique award winner I picked up at the ceremony a few years ago.

The book, written by George W. Aguilar, Sr., a descendant of Chinook Indians who lived, fished, and traded along the Columbia River for centuries, is called When the River Ran Wild!: Indian Traditions on the Mid-Columbia and the Warm Springs Reservation. The subtitle makes it sound like an academic text, but Aquilar’s book is so much more than that.

While he quotes from some academic sources–such as Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown’s classic look at the Columbia Chinook, The Chinook Indians: Traders of Lower Columbia (University of Oklahoma Press, 1976)–Aquilar’s main sources of information are other descendants of the Columbia tribes. And his intention isn’t to add to the historical record so much as give his people a sense of their own traditions, customs, and, yes, history.

“In a recent visit to Wolford Canyon, where I was brought up,” he writes, “there was only silence. The memories remain, but the echoes of the canyon are calm. No children play in the springwater pools. No sweathouse fires heat the rocks. No deer hides are soaking. No buckskin tanning. No gardens. No wheat or hay growing. The fields are now teeming with juniper trees where the golden heads of wheat once swayed to the whispers of the wind.”

To replace that silence, Aguilar excavates the memories of people he knows and others whose reminiscences have been recorded. Out of these and his own experiences, he weaves a kind of handbook for Chinook descendants like himself, especially the younger generations of the 21st century, who have no contact with anyone who lived by the old ways.

In the midst of chapters that explore the Chinooks’ traditional foods (both plants and animals), religions and beliefs, myths and legends, and warfare, Aguilar includes set pieces on practices such as the sweathouse, meat drying, the use of traditional nets, and something known as “butt slapping,” a way for native fishermen on platforms over the Columbia River to indicate which fish they’ve caught they want to keep for themselves.

The chapter on salmon fishing on the Columbia is worth the book’s cost alone. Not only does Aguilar evoke the heyday of Celilo Falls, he also talks about salmon runs, salmon festivals, fishing techniques, and customs that regulated how and where the salmon were fished for.

In other sections, he writes about the other species the Chinook relied on–Pacific lamprey, crayfish, sturgeon, smelt–and gives an exhaustive list of the plants they ate or used in other ways, as well as how they prepared them.

Beginning with his own experiences in forced boarding schools and government programs ,like one in the 1950s that attempted to get younger Indians to move off the reservation into cities, Aguilar takes us through the hardships his people have had to endure while also celebrating the endurance of a vibrant culture in danger of being completely lost.

One of the most important aspects of Aguilar’s project is his naming of individual tribal members, past and present–names that have been left out of the history books. He traces the lineage of individual names, tells us how names have been given, and looks at the meanings of those names. He is careful to name important local figures who are unknown to the general public and tell their stories too.

“The River People are the Northwest Klickitat and the Eastern-speaking Chinookan Kiksht,” Aguilar writes. “They are the Wascos, the Cascades, the Wishxams, the Clackamas, the Multnomahs, the Hood Rivers, the Skamanias, the Skilloots, and others who lived in villages on both sides of the Wilmaɬ, the Columbia River.”

By naming and writing for the descendants of these people–his people–Aquilar is trying to make sure they and their ways are not forgotten.

When the River Ran Wild!

Indian Traditions on the Mid-Columbia and the Warm Springs Reservation

by George W. Aguilar, Sr.

Published by Oregon Historical Press, in association with the University of Washington Press

2005

$24.95

Buy it here.

The Long History and Continued Vitality of the Northwest’s Black Newspapers

(image from Wikipedia)

You don’t have to do more than scratch the surface of Pacific Northwest history to see how unwelcoming the area has been for African Americans. Oregon’s constitution, enacted on this date (February 14) in 1859, made it illegal for Blacks to even stay overnight in the state. As late as 1941, Portland–the only Oregon city with more than a handful of African Americans–had fewer than 2,000 in a population of 300,000.

And Seattle wasn’t much better. Despite being desperate for workers at the start of World War II, Boeing refused to hire even highly skilled African Americans. And most of the neighborhoods in Seattle’s north end (where I grew up) were formed with covenants forbidding house sales to people of color.

The Northwest’s midsize cities, smaller towns, and rural areas were no better. Even now, it’s rare to see a Black face anywhere outside the larger cities. According to the Census Bureau, in 2020 Washington State was only 4% Black, Oregon 2%, and Idaho 1%.

Given this history, it will come as no shock to hear that the area’s white-owned newspapers generally ignored its Black residents. The dearth of stories about people who looked like her became so painful to Portland resident Kathryn Hall Boyle (1906-2003) that in 1937 she arranged for a meeting with the Oregonian‘s city editor to show him the pitiful number of Black-oriented articles she’d found in his paper. His response was to ask her to write something herself.

And so she did. Eighty-five years ago today, her 2,000-word article, “An American Negro Speaks of Color,” became the first piece published by a major Northwest newspaper to describe what it was like to live as an African American in the region.

While Bogle’s article may have been a watershed moment for the area’s white press, it was far from the first piece to be written about African American life in the Northwest. The region has been home to Black-owned and Black-focused newspapers since at least the 1890s.

Washington’s first successful Black newspaper was the weekly Seattle Republican, one of seven Black newspapers to begin publishing in Seattle between 1891 and 1901. You can read several editions of this important paper here. Despite the Oregon constitution’s ban on African Americans, Portland entered the field in 1896 when a young man named Adolphus D. Griffin started publishing the short-lived but important weekly New Age.

One of the region’s most successful early Black papers was the Northwest Enterprise, published from 1920 through 1952. Although centered in Seattle, the Enterprise had a Portland bureau where several women from the Bogle family served as editors. In fact, the Enterprise was an early leader in hiring women as writers and editors. You’ll find facsimiles of several issues of the paper here.

Today, you’ll find Northwest news for and about the African American community in several newspapers, including:

The Skanner (Seattle and Portland)

Seattle Medium

The Portland Observer

For a full list of historical Black-owned newspapers, go to these Wikipedia pages:

List of African-American newspapers in Washington (state)

List of African-American newspapers in Oregon

And for a fascinating look at many issues of Portland’s older African American newspapers, visit the Portland State University library’s Historic Black Newspapers of Oregon site, where you can browse and download editions from the Rutherford Family Collection.

Writing About the History, Variety & Triumphs of Northwest Wines

Image courtesy of pxfuel.com

A short time ago, I happened upon an article announcing that a group of writers who specialized in wine were starting a new print magazine dedicated to covering the NW wine industry. Called Great Northwest Wine, the publication is linked to a 10-year-old website with the same name, and most of the writers, editors and photographers involved with it used to work for Wine Press Northwest, a magazine the Tri-City Herald newspaper produced for 23 years before ending its run this past September.

According to the article, there are now over 1,000 wineries in Washington State, 900 in Oregon, 370 in British Columbia, 65 in Idaho, and “a handful” in Montana.

Even residents of the area assume wine-making is a fairly recent addition to the NW economy, but one website I found credits photographer Peter Britt with planting what he called the Valley View Vineyard in the 1850s. (Britt’s estate in southern Oregon is known today as the location for the Britt Music & Arts Festival, “the Pacific Northwest’s premier outdoor summer performing arts festival.”) According to HistoryLink.org, the first NW grapes were planted even earlier, in 1825, at Fort Vancouver, then an outpost of the British Hudson’s Bay Company.

The Oregon Wine site traces the origins of Oregon’s modern wine industry to 1933 when, in the days after the repeal of Prohibition, a group of entrepreneurs received “bonded winery status.” According to the site, Hillcrest Winery in the Umpqua Valley is the state’s oldest estate winery and it was Hillcrest’s Richard Sommer who planted the many varieties of grapes on which today’s thriving Oregon wine reputation is built.

The Washington Wine site tells us that around the same time Hillcrest was coming into existence, the Washington Wine Producers Association was being founded. By 1937, Washington had 42 wineries.

Grape picking, WA, 1920s, State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov, accessed 2-1-22

NW wines have been winning awards around the world for many years now. Thirty-five years ago, Washington was known mostly for Riesling wine, but today it produces an almost equal amount of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot grapes (approx. 35,000 tons of each), which together account for 77% of the state’s total production.

In Oregon, as anyone who knows wines at all can tell you, Pinot Noir is king, topping 60,000 tons in annual production, four times its nearest rival, Pinot Gris.

But this is a site dedicated to writing about the Northwest rather than the wonders of NW wine, so let me give you some sites that feature writing about NW wine as well as a few books on the subject for you to check out:

NW wine yesterday and today:

Wine in Washington (HistoryLink.org)

The Washington State Wine Commission’s history page

Washington’s Wine History“–article from the Seattle TimesPacific NW Magazine

Oregon Wine History

The Oregon Wine Board’s history page (written by Oregonian wine writer Katherine Cole)

Oregon Wine History Archives–a wonderful site with oral histories, lots of great interviews with Oregon winemakers, information on regions, and tons of photos

Most of sites listed above include links to more current information on the NW wine industry–and here are three more:

Great Northwest Wine

Wine Press Northwest magazine

Oregon Wine Press

If you’re ready for a richer taste that will linger longer on the tongue, try these fuller-bodied reads:

The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle (“A beautifully written nonfiction chronicle of a year in the life of a vineyard.”)

Pinot Girl: A Family. A Region. An Industry. by Anna Maria Ponzi (“An intimate memoir by the daughter of one of Oregon’s earliest wine families.”)

Oregon Wine: A Deeply Rooted History by Scott Stursa (“Uncover the forgotten roots of Oregon wine with author Scott Stursa and raise a glass to its prosperous future.”)

The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ronald A. Irvine (“…Full of insight into the beginnings and future of the world class wines of Washington, the land it is grown in and the past and present players involved.”)

Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt (“”The most comprehensive and authoritative book on Washington wines.”)

Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest by Cole Danehower and Andrea Johnson [photographer] (“Beautifully illustrated with photographs and helpful maps, this in-depth guide is a milestone in the North American literature on wine.”)

Two Excellent Websites Offering Brief Writings on People, Places, and Events in Pacific Northwest History

“Whitman Mission, drawing,” date unknown, photograph by Arnold Studios, State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov, accessed 11-23-21.

Sometimes you don’t want to have to dig through a big history book to learn more about a particular person or event you’ve heard about somewhere. Fortunately, there are excellent websites that offer vast collections of useful and often intriguing writings about all aspects of history in both Washington and Oregon.

WASHINGTON

The Washington site is called HistoryLink,org. Billing itself as “the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history,” it offers 7961 articles (and counting) on everything from the indigenous tribes that lived in different parts of the state in pre-contact times to the particulars of important political races in more recent days.

A pleasantly designed and usefully organized site, it is easily navigated from the home page, where you’ll find not only a search box and tabs for useful links (such as classroom-specific resources) but also:

  • a featured article about something that happened during the current week in history called “This Week Then
  • historical news bits with links to related articles called “News Then, History Now
  • links to articles about things that happened on today’s date called “Today in Washington History
  • links to the newest articles on the site
  • a featured historical image
  • a “Quote of the Week

OREGON

The Oregon site is called simply The Oregon Encyclopedia. Assembled under the auspices of the Oregon Historical Society, it, too, offers thousands of articles that cover all aspects of the state’s history (and pre-history).

Like HistoryLink.org, The Oregon Encyclopedia is well thought-out and put-together. In addition to a search box, the attractive and helpful main page features:

  • a link for educators that includes access to pre-prepared “Primary Source Packets
  • a variety of sample articles focused on important subjects
  • suggestions for especially intriguing reads
  • a link to an interactive map of notable places, people, and events in Oregon history
  • a link to the Oregon Historical Society’s digital resources and online narratives
  • a feature called “The Corner Gallery,” focused on a subject of current interest (right now, its focus is Indigenous Peoples Day and it offers related links)

MONTANA AND IDAHO

Although Montana and Idaho don’t have websites dedicated to them that are as extensive and entertaining to read, you can find many useful links to online resources and articles on pages offered by their respective historical societies:

Montana History Links” on the Montana Historical Society’s “Montana: Stories of the Land” webpage

Idaho History at Home” on the Idaho State Historical Society’s website

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Spotlight on NW Publishers: Featuring Voices from Home

The Pacific Northwest has a large number of quality publishers—some larger, some smaller, some known across the country, some known only to a few thankful readers. One thing almost all of them have in common is publishing Northwest writers who write about their home region in memoirs, essays, histories, fiction or poetry.

Below are thirteen you should know about, along with quotes from their websites about what they offer and a representative sampling of their books about the Northwest.

Just click on any title for a full description of the book.

University of Washington Press

“The University of Washington Press is the oldest and largest publisher of scholarly and general interest books in the Pacific Northwest. We publish compelling and transformative work with regional, national, and global impact.”

Walking the High Desert: Encounters with Rural America on the Oregon Desert Trail by Ellen Waterston (“Blending travel writing with memoir and history, Waterston [a poet] profiles a wide range of people who call the high desert home….”)

Uncle Rico’s Encore: Mosty True Stories of Filipino Seattle by Peter Bacho (forthcoming: January 2022–“Sharing a life inextricably connected to his community and the generation that came before him, this memoir is a tribute to Filipino Seattle.”)

The River that Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish by BJ Cummings (“This important book should be read by all wetlands conservationists.” – Choice)

(And one more: The Port of Missing Men by Aaron Goings)

Oregon State University Press

“For sixty years, Oregon State University Press has been publishing exceptional books about the Pacific Northwest—its people and landscapes, its flora and fauna, its history and cultural heritage.”

Mink River by Brian Doyle (“It’s the tale of a town, written in a distinct and lyrical voice, and readers will close the book more than a little sad to leave the village of Neawanaka, on the wet coast of Oregon, beneath the hills that used to boast the biggest trees in the history of the world.”–a much-beloved debut novel by one of the NW’s most distinctive voices.)

The Brightwood Stillness by Mark Pomeroy (“With its vivid look at friendship and the challenges of cross-cultural communication, its poignant take on the legacy of Vietnam, and its Pacific Northwest setting, The Brightwood Stillness will remind readers of the best elements of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain and Snow Falling on Cedars…”)

Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hell’s Canyon by R. Gregory Nokes (A former AP & Oregonian reporter digs for the truth behind the 1887 massacre of 30 Chinese gold miners on the Oregon side of Hell’s Canyon. Along the way, he “examines the once-substantial presence of Chinese laborers in the interior Pacific Northwest…“)

(And one more: Rough House: A Memoir by Tina Ontiveros)

Washington State University Press

“Our passion is telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest—lesser-known yet fascinating accounts of people, places, and events that matter in the region’s history or culture and are part of the broad picture of Western expansion.”

Teaching Native Pride: Upward Bound and the Legacy of Isabel Bond by Tony Tekaroniake Evans (“Native and non-Native voices tell the story of the federally sponsored Upward Bound program at the University of Idaho, intertwining personal anecdotes and memories with accounts of the program’s inception and goals, as well as regional Native American history and Isabel Bond’s Idaho family history.”)

Carry Forth the Stories: An Ethnographer’s Journey into Native Oral Tradition by Rodney Frey (2018 Handcart Award, Mountain West Center for Regional Studies. “Carry Forth the Stories breaks a trail toward a new/old way of looking at the world that promises cultural, personal and ecological healing.”—Billings Gazette)

Writing the Northwest: A Reporter Looks Back by Hill Williams (“Award-winning, amiable journalist Hill Williams…transforms his stories into inviting, candid narratives about Hanford, Celilo Falls, whale-hunters, salmon researchers, growing up on the dry side of Washington, and more.”)

Forest Avenue Press

“Literary fiction on a joy ride.”

Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum (“With a breathtaking climax that rivals the best Hong Kong gambling movies, Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s debut novel delivers the thrilling highs and lows that come when we cede control of our futures to the roll of the dice and the turn of a card.”)

A Simplified Map of the Real World by Steven Allred (Named a #1 book of 2013 in the Powell’s Staff Top 5s and a 2014 Multnomah County Library PageTurners Book Club Pick. “Fifteen linked stories chart a true course through the lives of families, farmers, loggers, former classmates, and the occasional stripper.”)

This Particular Happiness by Jackie Shannon Hollis (“When Jackie Shannon Hollis marries Bill, a man who does not want children, she joyfully commits to a childless life. But soon after the wedding, she returns to the family ranch in rural Oregon and holds her newborn niece. Jackie falls deep into baby love and longing and begins to question her decision.“)

(And one more: Parts Per Million by Julia Stoops)

Sasquatch Books

“Based in Seattle for over 30 years, Sasquatch Books, together with our children’s imprint, Little Bigfoot, publishes books by the most gifted writers, artists, chefs, naturalists, and thought leaders in the Pacific Northwest and on the West Coast…

Chief Seattle and the Town that Took His Name by David M. Buerge (“This is the first thorough historical account of Chief Seattle and his times–the story of a half-century of tremendous flux, turmoil, and violence, during which a native American war leader became an advocate for peace and strove to create a successful hybrid racial community.”)

Unsettled Ground: The Whitman Massacre and Its Shifting Legacy in the American West by Cassandra Tate (“Historian and journalist Cassandra Tate takes a fresh look at the personalities, dynamics, disputes, social pressures, and shifting legacy of the Whitman Massacre—a pivotal event in the history of the American West—including the often-missing Indian point of view.“)

The Dreamer and the Doctor: A Forest Lover and a Physician on the Edge of the Frontier by Jack Nesbit (“In the turn-of-the-twentieth-century Northwest, the lives and passions of an American physician and her Swedish naturalist husband helped shape a territory on the cusp of change.”)

Ooligan Press

“Ooligan Press is a student-run trade press rooted in the Pacific Northwest dedicated to cultivating the next generation of publishing professionals. We prioritize literary equity and inclusion. Ooligan strives to publish culturally relevant titles from our local, marginalized voices in order to make literature accessible and redefine who has a place within its pages.”

Faultland by Suzy Vitello (As the Sparrow family’s shaky foundations collide, an earthquake levels their city [Portland] in this debut novel.)

Oregon Stories, edited by Ooligan Press (“This collection of 150 personal narratives from everyday Oregonians explores the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the people who live in this unique state.”)

Copper Canyon Press

Copper Canyon Press publishes new collections of poetry by both revered and emerging American poets, translations of classical and contemporary work from many of the world’s cultures, re-issues of out-of-print poetry classics, anthologies, and prose books about poetry.”

After the Point of No Return by David Wagoner (“In After the Point of No Return, Wagoner finds wonder in the world of the senses as he reveals the melodies of an ancient rainforest, remembers boyhood rituals, and captures the swift movement of a fox at the edge of vision.”)

The Novice Insomniac by Emily Warn (“Whether invoking the persona of Esther to examine Jewish culture, musing upon the threatened landscape of her native Northwest, or witnessing the frustration of the insomniac’s darkened domain, [Warn’s] poems offer solace to what is most vulnerable in this world.”)

Propeller Books

Our independent press publishes high-quality literary projects and distributes titles from like-minded publishers.

Gielgud by Dan DeWeese (“In scenes of humor, anxiety, tenderness, and desire, Gielgud chronicles men and women who, in a world of streaming video and nonstop commentary, quietly struggle through personal crises almost entirely unobserved.”)

A Simple Machine, Like the Lever by Evan P. Schneider (“Nick’s struggle to position his aesthetic within the world is the story of a perfectionist who is far from perfect, who is considerate but clumsy, and may be invisible. Like Nick, A Simple Machine, Like the Lever is short, toned, observant, generous, purposeful, and brimming with bicycle wisdom.“)

Calyx Press

CALYX exists to nurture women’s creativity by publishing fine literature and art by women.”

Harvest by Barbara Baldwin (“Embracing both the personal and the universal—from her love of nature viewed from her home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the realities of love, life, and loss—this intensely powerful collection stands as a tribute to a wife and environmentalist, mother and activist, and, above all, a writer.”)

Indian Singing by Gail Tremblay (“Indian Singing is not a quiet book; the musical poetry of Gail Tremblay demands to be read, sung, out loud. Her poetry is a visionary quest, a work of hope presenting enduring lessons to accommodate change in our troubled times.“)

Black Heron Press

“Black Heron Press is a literary press located in Seattle, Washington.”

North Fork by Wayne M. Johnston (“The three main characters tell their stories separately as first-person written responses to an English class assignment to keep a personal journal. Each struggles to face life with integrity while entangled in a web of difficult situations. To triumph, each must confront the challenge of forgiveness.”)

The Remains of River Names by Matt Briggs (“The novel is told in twelve linked stories, each of which is a chapter told in turn by the members of a counter-culture family in the process of destroying itself.”)

Hawthorne Books

“Hawthorne Books is an independent literary press based in Portland, Oregon, with a national scope and deep regional roots.”

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (2012 Finalist, Pen Center Creative Nonfiction Award. “This is not your mother’s memoir.”)

Little Green by Loretta Stinson (“Like Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Loretta Stinson portrays the psychology of a woman who has experienced violence at the hands of someone she loves and the complexity of leaving with sensitivity and insight.”)

Timber Press

“Timber Press is devoted to sharing the wonders of the natural world by publishing books from experts in gardening, horticulture, and natural history.”

A World of Faces: Masks of the Northwest Coast Indians by Edward Malin (“An exploration of the meaning behind the treasured masks created by artisans for ritual purposes, or simply for enjoyment. The author presents a photo gallery of outstanding examples.”)

Wolves in the Land of Salmon by David Moskowitz (“Observing [wolves] at close range, David Moskowitz explores how they live, hunt, and communicate, tracing their biology and ecology through firsthand encounters in the wildlands of the Northwest.“)

Mountaineers Books

With more than 700 titles in print, Mountaineers Books [specializes in] outdoor recreation, sustainable lifestyle, and conservation titles, published respectively under our Mountaineers Books, Skipstone, and Braided River imprints.”

The Sasquatch Seeker’s Field Manual: Using Citizen Science to Uncover North America’s Most Elusive Creature by David Gordon (“This new field guide introduces readers to the Sasquatch—also popularly known as Bigfoot—in nature, in myth, and in modern culture. Gordon explores folklore, testimonies and evidence, and modern day encounters.“)

Crags, Eddies and RipRap: The Sound Country Memoir of Wolf Bauer by Lynn Hyde and Wolf Bauer (“Bauer was a whirlwind of outdoor pursuits that inspired some of America’s greatest climbers. And as an engineer, he developed methods for preserving coastlines that have been adversely impacted by human development…He was one of those unsung Amercan heroes who moved ahead each day to make a difference and, in his hurry, ended up creating a legacy of accomplishment that many of us now lean on today.”)

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For news about Northwest indie publishers and authors, check out the News page of Book Publishers Northwest, a regional affiliate of the Independent Book Publishers Association.

And for general news about Northwest events and issues in publishing and bookselling, go to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association website.

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