First Peoples

24. A Caution from The Two Cayuse Sisters

So, let’s take a step back and see what we missed by being fully “modern” people looking at the Columbia River. Here we are…

…looking south through Wallula Gap, pretty much as if we were standing on the roof of Fort Nez Percé.

The bluff to the left in the photo is the same as the one to the right in this image of the Northwest Company Fort in 1818.

The river wouldn’t have been so high then. It’s dammed now. The river, though, was important politically. The explorers, one could certainly say spies, Lewis and Clark, and the freed slave (and thus cross-cultural ambassador in Indigenous tradition) Sacagewea followed it in 1805. Their goal was to follow it.

William Clark, Meriweather Lewis, and Sacagewea, l. to r.

The men have guns. She just has a baby and a big stick.

Here’s a suggestion of what it might have looked like when the explorers showed up in 1805.

Did they really use a valuable rifle as a support for a cooking pot over a fire? Look at how much there is to learn in this world! Note the butte peaking up over the scree slope on the left. Painting of Lewis & Clark meeting Chief Yellepit at Wallula, by Norman Adams, 2000. Fort Walla Walla Museum.

Because they stopped here, David Thompson (of the Northwest [Fur]Company [of Montreal]) stopped here in 1809 in a race downriver to claim the mouth of the Columbia for Britain (although not after claiming this land for Britain by planting a flag. (The American flag here is a gift for Yellepit. He was also given a Thomas Jefferson medal.) Thompson was late, yet because of him, the company built their fort here in 1818. And that’s the thing. It was all about making claims to the land by racing down the river, which is map-making by any name. Local maps were different. They were stories. Here’s one, the bluff we saw in Adams’ painting above, but from the south, a couple hundred years later.

And closer…

Kinda looks like two beaver teeth on that there thing.

And it may be that, but this is Spillyay, aka Kojoti, the transformer and trickster ancestor. and expert salmon fisher. And here are the companions in his story.

The Two Cayuse Sisters, in their grass skirts.

It’s not my place to tell this story, and I’d do so poorly, but I think a few observations are warranted. First, these are distinctive landforms from the river. Second, the story is not “long ago”. This is the story ongoing. Third, to Western eyes, and perhaps Cayuse ones, these figures don’t look like two young women or a wild dog. It’s an important point. By naming them so, all the other characteristics one can make out (or imagine) in the rocks is part of those characters and their story. In other words, looking at the southern sister…

… the figures in her rocky skirt are part of the story, as is the fact that she is twinned, either in boy or thought. The faces in her cliffs are part of her story, too. And if one looks to the northern sister…

… that she is a trio of birds (eagle? owl? hawk?) which are really one bird, suggests that the figures in her skirt are hatched by her. I’m not saying these are Cayuse readings, but they are readings of the land in its own forms and if made respectfully, do not in any way reshape an original story [of rape and escape]. These buttes are maps that lead you into natural and human social relationships, however you wish to follow them. Unfortunately, they were invisible to Lewis and Clark, remarkably enough. However, they saw this one:

Hat Rock State Park

It looked like a hat. They knew about hats.

Mural of the Expedition, Drury Plaza Hotel, St. Louis

Note Merriweather Lewis’s slave York, with Merriweather’s hat. This hat:

Merriweather and his slaves.

Maybe that’s the hat we’re seeing at Hat Rock.

Maybe. It has a fence around it, at any rate. Whatever the hat is, the point remains: this is history written on the land in stories that reference places far away, with stories built on the history of individuals on the move. That’s quite different than the stories of people who are present in a place, and have been for many, many thousands of years. Their images, whatever they are, aren’t the images of individuals seeing a place for the first time, but of individuals living in a story told many times before, all of which are right now.

But don’t take it from me.

“You belong to the place. It does not belong to you.”

Imagine that. When Peopeomoxmox…

Peopeomoxmox, by Paul Kane

… sent Father (to be) Charles Pandosy …

…to Chamna …

No Trespassing!

The View from Pandosy’s First Mission Site. The Russian olives are invasive. It would have been grass, with fish drying racks.

… he was not sending him to a place of power, where shamans (well priests) like him belonged. He and the spirits there would become one.

Rattlesnake Ridge at the End of Day (Looking west from Peopeomoxmox’s territory)

Chamna was at the foot of the south end of the ridge.

Pandosy was set on a spirit journey. That there was Great Basin Giant Rye there …

Giant Rye Surviving in the Ruins of Ranch Culture at Pandosy’s Holy Rose Mission Site.

… just as there was at Peopeomoxmox’s village could hardly have been accidental, although Pandosy may not have realized its spiritual significance.

Others Might Not Have Realized Its Significance Either

Just saying.

Did Pandosy realize it? Ah, to answer that question, we are going to have to take a few steps back and follow the story in more detail. We’ve skipped a little bit ahead here so that this spirit story would be waiting to receive him, instead of him entering it. I think that’s a fair way of letting the land into history. Otherwise, it’s just something in the past, like this:

And history is not in the past. That is a dangerous illusion.

It leads to this kind of nonsense:

And even this romanticization:

In other words, it leads to notions of heroism, ownership and romantic individuals, a part of the legacy of Lewis and Clark, and it takes us away from the Cayuse and Umatilla, who, if you remember from the image I showed you earlier, still say:

So, I’ve tried to lead you into that land. Let’s get ready to receive Pandosy now as the 16,000 years we are here.

Because it’s not land that received him. That’s just what he thought.

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