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Introduction

The idea for the Oregon Literature Series, six anthologies of the best Oregon writing, was first proposed to the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) in 1988. At that time, OCTE decided to depart from the conventional state literary anthology--a monolithic tome put together by a few academic volunteers and generally intended for libraries and adult readers. Instead, OCTE decided to create six shorter, genre-based anthologies: prose, poetry, autobiography, folk literature, letters and diaries, and short fiction. OCTE would publish a public "Call for Editors," and the most qualified individuals would be hired for their expertise and treated professionally-honoraria, expenses, research assistance, travel, etc. The anthologies would be intended as classroom/reference texts for students and teachers, and as introductory readers for the general public. Books would be designed to be easily held, carried, and read.

Numerous arguments were raised against this innovative proposal--most of them signaling Oregon's 150-year status as a literary colony. No one had ever done this before. Oregon's literature was non-existent. There wasn't much writing of merit. Most scholars and critics have ignored Oregon literature--even in the best histories of Western literature. There's no literary history of Oregon. It will take years to find this work. In Oregon, literature has the least financial support of all the major arts. We had no publisher. It might rain.

Nevertheless, in 1989, Ulrich Hardt and I were appointed by OCTE to complete the Oregon Literature Series. The work began when we signed a publication contract with Oregon State University Press, our first and most important professional collaborator. Next, from a pool of 139 applicants, OCTE chose these editors to discover Oregon's literary heritage: Shannon Applegate, Stephen Dow Beckham, Gordon B. Dodds, Primus St. John, Suzi Jones, Glen A. Love, Terence O Donnell, Jarold Ramsey, and Ingrid Wendt. Appointed in August 1990, those individuals began the search for Oregon writing that eventually spread beyond every corner of the state--from ranch houses to university archives, from oral storytellers in Longhouses to Chinese Miners' letters in museums, from Desdemona Sands to Burns. Some editors traveled thousands of miles. Others corresponded with hundreds of authors. Most read thousands of pages. Poets, historians, folklorists, critics, scholars, teachers, and editors--they all benefited from and shared their research expertise. Even though honoraria were small, editors gave generously of their time. While the editors looked for Oregon writing, Ulrich Hardt and I sought out and received endorsements from many major cultural and arts organizations. Financial support was like rain in the time of drought, but we attracted a few wise, faithful, and generous patrons, as the Acknowledgements record.

Once the editors had discovered this vast, unstudied, and unknown body of writings, they assembled their manuscripts by using the following guidelines--guidelines that required them to choose writing--in its broadest sense--that might reveal the Oregon experience to both students and the public:

  1. The volume must include a representative sample of the best Oregon writing from all periods, regions, occupations, genders, genres and sub-genres, ethnic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds.
  2. Oregon birth should not be used as a single criterion for inclusion. Oregon residence is important, but no arbitrary length of stay is required for a writer to be included.
  3. Works about experience in Oregon are preferred, but editors are not limited to that criterion alone.
  4. "Oregon" will be defined by its changing historical boundaries--Native American tribal territories, Spanish, Russian, British, U.S. Territory, statehood.
  5. One or more translations and original from non-English languages should be included when appropriate to show that linguistic multiplicity has always been a part of Oregon.
  6. Controversial subjects such as sexism and racism should not be avoided. Multiple versions of events, people, and places should be included when available.
  7. Length of works must vary; limit the number of snippets when possible. Meet the need of diversity in reading, from complex to simple.
  8. New, unknown, or unpublished work should be included.
  9. Works will be edited for clarity but not necessarily for correctness. Editors may invent titles, delete text, and select text as appropriate and with appropriate notation.

Once assembled in draft, most of these manuscripts were two to three times longer than could be published by Oregon State University Press; therefore much fine writing had to be omitted, which all editors and our publisher regret. After being reduced to the requisite size, the manuscripts passed through two separate reviews: first, a different Advisor Board for each volume read and rated all selections; second, the Editorial Board composed of all fellow editors of the Oregon Literature Series read, responded, and eventually voted to adopt the manuscript for publication. At all stages, both ulrich Hardt and I worked closely with editors in may ways: readers, critics, fundraisers, administrators, arbitrators, secretaries, grant writers, researchers, coordinators, pollsters.

Now, we hope that these books will create for Oregon literature a legitimate place in oregon schools and communities, where the best texts that celebrate, invent, evaluate, and illuminate the Oregon condition have been invisible for too long. Here, for the first time, students will have books that actually include writing by Oregonians; and peoples in the state; librarians will be able to recommend the best reading to their patrons; the new reader and the general reader can find answers to the question that has haunted this project like a colonial ghost "Who are Oregon's writers, anyway?"

Let it be known that an Oregon literary canon is forming--rich, diverse, compelling. Here we give this sample of it to you. Let your love of reading and wiring endure.

George Venn, General Editor
Grand Rhonde Valley, Oregon, September 1992

 


Introduction: Oregon Folk Literature

Folk Literature and Oregon's Literary Heritage

This first anthology of Oregon folk literature bears a special relationship
to the other five volumes in the Oregon Literature Series. For here, if we have done our job well, you will find examples of the kinds of cherished traditional stories and songs, myths, and sayings from many Oregon groups and communities that have nurtured and continue to nurture the state's best writings. In their distinctive styles, writers like H.L. Davis, Ken Kesey, William Stafford, Ursula LeGuin, Barry Lopez, and Beverly Cleary all owe much to what Oregonians have told and sung and kept in memory, in kitchens and sweat-lodges, on the range and on the street, in canneries and convention centers, in schools, bunkhouses, and funeral parlors.

Even if our oral traditions from Native American myths to jokes about the spotted owl were somehow declared off-limits to Oregon authors No Trespass! they would surely, at this point in our state's history, be worth collecting and enjoying anyway. But the happy fact is that what we call folk literature is like a fertile soil to the talents and imaginative ambitions of individual writers, just as surely in a place called Oregon as in places known as New York, Chicago, and Moscow. Read through this collection and see if it doesn't enhance your understanding and appreciation of what is distinctively "Oregonian" in Oregon's written literary heritage.

What Is Folk Literature?

Properly understood, folk literature is the collective traditional verbal art of a community (meaning any kind and size of grouping, from a rural or urban neighborhood, to a kind of occupation or work, to a linguistic or ethnic or racial community, to a geopolitical entity like Oregon). Folk literature usually entails oral performance and transmission things told, recited, sung, from memory: myth-narratives, legends, tall tales, anecdotes, poems, ballads and song lyrics, jokes, proverbs and sayings, set-speeches, verbal rituals, word-games, and the like. Literature here specifies imaginative, evocative uses of language and the expression of subjective truths in conventional forms (ballads, origin myths, riddles, and so on); folk history, by contrast, seeks to document facts and circumstances relating to "the way it was." Not that the two forms of discourse don't sometimes overlap, of course: oral histories often contain examples of folk literature within them, and folk literature is often taken as a source of oral history, providing glimpses into the way people felt about "the way it was."

A community's folk literature is its distinctive way of talking to itself through time and change and of reaffirming its collective identity: "We are the people who know these stories and songs." Hence folk-literary repertories (the whole kit-and-caboodle of things to be told or sung) are likely to be ethnocentric that is, they deal imaginatively with what the people know and care about habitually; everything else is foreign.

Thus, in the traditional Klamath creation myth, creation takes place around Klamath Lake¯how other places, the High Desert or the Coast Range, say, came to be, are subjects for other people's mythologies. And when Eastern Oregonians tell stories about buck-feverish Portland hunters ("Burnsiders") bagging Holstein venison on Opening Day of deer season, they are likewise confirming the ethnocentric, culturally self-conscious tendencies of folk literature.

This is not to say, of course, that the elements of folklore are rigidly limited as to place or time. Quite the contrary if folk tales weren't adaptable and subject to variation and adaptive change, then this anthology would lack all the expressively "Oregonized" versions of Scots-Irish, Hispanic, African-American, and other stories that we've brought here with us as newcomers. And for all the distinctiveness and exclusivity of Indian oral literatures, embedded as they have been in the state's twenty-plus Native languages, there is much over-lapping of story-types and episodes, both because tribes appropriated each other's stories through contact, and because some stories (like "The Star Husbands" and many Trickster episodes) are apparently so old that versions of them have been part of individual Indian cultures since they split off from some common parent culture.

Thus, because folk stories and songs figure intimately in people's lives on a local, daily, oral basis, entertaining, consoling, instructing them over the years, it is the very essence of folk literature to be dynamic, endlessly subject to variation. Through the flexible outlines of traditional stories, people can imagine the changes in their lives, as well as the continuities as happens in the Basque story, "The Coyote, the Bear, and the Moon" (p.296), in which the Spanish-born storyteller has added a coyote from the Oregon desert to the traditional plot of his tale!

The eminent folklorist J. Barre Toelken (who lived and taught in Oregon for many years) argues that "all folklore participates in a distinctive, dynamic process. Constant change, variation within a tradition, whether intentional or inadvertent, is . . . a central fact of life for folklore" (The Dynamics of Folklore, p. 10).

How the Contents of This Book Were Elected

As editors, we agreed from the outset that the decision to include a book like this in the Oregon Literature Series created a wonderful set of opportunities to advance the study and recognition of Oregon's folklore more opportunities, in fact, than any one volume could hope to realize, but maybe we could point a way. Consequently, we've sorted through haystacks and silos of printed and archival material, pestered friends and colleagues, harassed each other with possible leads (Ramsey concentrated on Native American materials, Jones on non-Indian, but there has been much crossing over), and gone back to look again.

What have we been looking for, in what now seems to us more than ever the embarrassment of riches that is our state's folklore? Mostly it has been those combinations of imaginative power and emotional truth conveyed in vivid language that mark the work of great novelists and great storytellers alike. We wanted texts that were verbally expressive and reasonably true to their origins in spoken performance, accessible to general readers, and, taken together, indicative of the varieties of Oregonian experience racial and ethnic, bioregional, economic, sexual, and so on.

Here is as good a place as any to acknowledge that we have included some folk texts whose language and underlying attitudes may be offensive to modern readers, on racial, ethnic, or sexual grounds. No editorial offense is intended by such material but surely it is important, in understanding where we have come from, to know what our Oregon forebears were capable of saying and telling. To omit once-popular stories from a collection like this because they contain expressions that we now rightly reject as racial insults or sexual slurs is to trivialize an important link with our past, when we should be endeavoring to grasp it whole, the better to avoid the prejudices and errors of those who came here before us.

We want to acknowledge, too, that as this collection is based largely on archival sources, it reflects their strengths and weaknesses. In particular, we have not been able to locate texts that reflect the full ethnic diversity of Oregon. We discovered that a much broader range of ethnic folklore has been collected and recorded in categories such as customs, popular beliefs, home remedies, and foodways than for any of the genres of folk literature. Undoubtedly, this situation reflects the nature of the complex relationship between language and literature, the history of native language retention by various immigrant groups in Oregon and the acquisition of the language by succeeding generations, as well as the short-term nature of many field collecting projects of university students, most of which have dealt with items of folklore that could be collected in English. Clearly, there is much more field work to be done in Oregon, and on a broader basis of race, ethnicity, and gender than heretofore.

In addressing the question of gender diversity in the anthology, we believe that we have assembled a fair representation of texts from and about both women and men, although we note that several thematic sections heroes and characters, hunting and fishing, and the chapter on occupational folk literature are predominantly male oriented. The latter section reflects the abundance of texts from those occupations traditionally associated with Oregon logging, mining, fishing, and ranching. The relative scarcity of female-oriented texts here should not be taken as a sign that women did not work or tell stories as such, but only that few such stories have so far been recorded. This is an area of folklore study that should be receiving greater attention as a result of the emphasis on women's studies.

In sum: if both the strengths of this book and its limitations spur others teachers and students, writers, local archivists, tribal historians to go forth in pursuit of Oregon's oral traditions as they carry on today, right now, in Paulina and Portland, in retirement homes and offices and on playgrounds, we'll be gratified indeed. The poet William Carlos Williams, who chose to stay home and write in Rutherford, New Jersey, when most of his contemporaries were setting up as expatriates after World War I, once asserted that "the local is the only thing that is universal. The classic is the local fully realized, words marked by a place." ("Kenneth Burke," Selected Essays, p. 114) Whether or not these selections are "classics" of Oregon folk literature is not our concern, but we believe that their wordings are vividly marked by the places, physical and mental, of Oregon; and we believe, too, that as stories and songs they can only hint at the full richness of what Oregonians have told and sung to each other over the years.

How This Book Is Organized

Our editorial aim from the beginning has been to represent Oregon's folk literature heritage as fairly, accessibly, and accountably as possible, so that both general readers and members of the specific communities represented here can engage that heritage both as a vital, ongoing whole and in its parts.

Consequently, against the usual practice of presenting Indian and non-Indian oral materials separately, or of organizing traditions by ethnic groups, we have freely intermixed them throughout, in the hope that Native and non-Native, indigenous and immigrant traditions will "talk to each other" as indeed they have throughout our state's history. Storytelling conventions do of course differ radically on some points, and we have tried to address these differences, so that they aren't blurred or ignored altogether. But knowledge of distinctive differences between these stories will, we hope, accentuate what they have in common, as "Oregon stories." The best way to read through this book, then, is comparatively.

Moreover, we have not arranged this collection strictly by genre, which would entail, for example, placing myths in one section and tall tales in another. While such an arrangement would be possible and would certainly highlight the forms of folk literature, we have chosen, instead, a thematic approach that focuses more directly on the expressive ways Oregon is represented in and by the stories, songs, and sayings. In some cases, we have clustered similar story types together, e.g., the Munchhausen tales of Hathaway Jones, B.F. Finn, and Tebo Ortego; and, in most cases, we have identified texts by genre. For those interested in the different genres of folk literature, we have included a brief glossary with the definitions of the genres.

The thirteen headings which divide the contents are mostly thematic categories, but they have not been imposed upon the material arbitrarily; instead, they have emerged naturally as we have sifted through the material. No doubt, readers will think of other categories and headings (an organization according to Oregon's regions would be workable), and, for sure, a collection of this kind of, say, New York or North Dakota folk literature would require a very different scheme of chapters. But for Oregon and its oral traditions as we have surveyed them, the best scheme turned out to be this one. And one of its virtues is that it should promote thematic and formal comparisons among the selections, and also between them and the examples of Oregon's written literature presented in other volumes in this series.

About Tellers and Tellings, Transcriptions, Translations, and Texts

As instances of folk literature, nearly all of the selections in this book are transcriptions renderings in print of originals which traditionally have existed wholly in oral performance, constantly being recomposed out of memory for different occasions and audiences, every performance thus likely to be different from every other. So to find them here mostly in neat written English sentences and paragraphs, looking like short stories in standard English, can be very misleading. Yet to read these pieces carefully (best of all, to read them aloud) is to rediscover at least something of their origins in colloquial speech, as indicated by emphasis on dialogue, evocative sound-effects, the kinds of narrative repetition-with-change that all good storytellers rely on, dramatic creation of scenes in place of elaborate description, and so on. We have tried where possible to avoid texts in which such oral features have been "written off," as in summaries,texts edited into standard English, and self-consciously "literary" retellings but inevitably there is a wide range of presentational styles here, from the rather literary "rewritten" texts from the WPA folklore files to the stenographic roughness and immediacy of more modern folkloric transcriptions, like those taken from the Randall Mills Archives, and Theodore Stern's transcript of Lulu Lang's telling of the Klamath story "Lulu'laidi" (see p. 220).

The headnote for each text will indicate its source and to what extent it reflects an oral performance.

In many of our selections, of course¯from Native American tradition, and also from Hispanic and other non-English sources the texts are the product not only of transcription but of translation as well. The Italians have a dour proverb that to translate something is to betray its essential meaning but we have been zealous to include only scholarly, accountable translations. The work of Dell Hymes on Clackamas and other Chinookan stories is worth noting here. Not only has Hymes's long, patient work on Chinookan languages enabled him to make superb new translations of the Clackamas stories that Victoria Howard told to Melville Jacobs in 1929-30, but it has also led to the development of new ways of presenting these texts in English as a kind of dramatic poetry, corresponding to the poetically measured forms of the originals. (See pp. 34-42 and 258-260) Indeed, Hymes, Dennis Tedlock, and other scholars and poets in the ethnopoetic movement have questioned whether what we recognize as prose adequately conveys any form of oral performance in any language.

Wherever possible, we have identified the tellers whose voices (and gestures and facial expressions!) brought these texts into existence. We have done so not only to serve the needs of scholarship, and to give credit where credit is due, but also to counter a common misconception about oral/traditional literature and its human sources: that the latter are merely "informants," only passive vehicles of unchanging tradition, and that the art of folk tales lies mainly, impersonally in the traditions, and hardly at all in the narrators. Anybody lucky enough to have heard and seen Lulu Lang of Chiloquin or Tebo Ortego of French Glen or Reub Long of Fort Rock or Verbena Greene of Warm Springs, knows how wrong-headed this notion is, in denying artistic authority to the tellers. Degrees of skill and creative originality differ widely, of course, and no doubt the stories in this collection reflect such differences and inequalities but the fact remains that it is the artistry and imaginative generosity of storytellers that has kept Oregon's folk literature alive in people's minds all these years.

A Note on Reading Traditional Indian Stories

Like all the selections in this book, the traditional Indian stories presented here originally lived in local oral tellingsfirst, perhaps for thousands of years, in Oregon's Native languages, like Wasco Chinookan, Klamath, and Nez Perce Sahaptin, and then, more uncertainly, in English. As printed texts to be read, Indian stories may seem at first reading at times cryptic, abrupt, puzzling and indeed like all traditional folktales they often do assume "insider" cultural information that as "outsiders" we don't possess. Thus, to take just one example, in the Klamath creation story (p.2), all Klamath listeners would know without being told that the setting is Klamath Lake, and that the tribes named at the end were the Klamaths' traditional neighbors. Such information is often available in anthropological studies known as ethnographies systematic descriptions of individual Indian cultures. For the Klamaths, two such works are Leslie Spier's Klamath Ethnography (1930), and Theodore Stern's The Klamath Tribe (1965). A full listing of ethnographic sources for Oregon Native groups can be found in J. Ramsey, "Resource Bibliography for the Study of Native Americans," pp. 62-67.

Very often, traditional Indian stories puzzle readers because, in obeying Native literary conventions and "rules," they don't behave like Euro-American narratives. We need more "literary ethnography" than we now have, certainly, but keeping the following conventions in mind will help you to understand and enjoy Native stories like those offered in this collection:

Indian myths and stories are not to be conceived of as "children's stories" although often they are very appealing to children's imaginations. In their original settings, they were told to and enjoyed by all ages together.

Many Indian narratives are myths, dealing with the beginnings of the world, and thus set in a "Myth Age," when reality was still unfinished, and crucial precedents good and bad were being set for the real People yet to come, by figures like Coyote as they traveled around. Often in myths, sacred happenings occur in very earthy, even (we might be tempted to say) obscene circumstances, notably when Old Man Coyote is involved. The strict separation of "sacred" and "profane" in Judeo-Christian culture is not recognized in traditional Indian cultures: not that their devotion to the sacred is any less strong than with Anglos, but that sacredness to them is very much connected to earthly life and the here and now.

Like all oral narratives, Indian storytelling relies insistently on repetition. Important events happen in sequences of repetition, building up to the "last time," which is decisive generally, the number of repetitions is five, because five is the sacred or ceremonial number for most of Oregon's Native groups.

Especially in translation, the presentational style of Indian stories tends to be sparse, unelaborated, more dramatic (emphasizing dialogue) and less descriptive than in Anglo narratives.

Characterization in these stories tends to be conventional rather than innovative or individualized; stock characters like Coyote (trickster and transformer), Eagle (right-thinking leader), Grizzly Bear (unpredictable, dangerous), and Raccoon (spoiled brat) appear and reappear throughout a tribe's repertory of stories. Tricksters like Coyote (over much of Oregon), Kamukamts (Klamath and Modoc), and South Wind (Tillamook) are central figures in Indian storytelling. Reckless, self-seeking, and capable of anything, from shabby tricks that often backfire to important deeds like freeing the salmon in the Columbia River, when Coyote and his kind turn up in a story, "the plot thickens."

Apart from what they say, characters' emotions usually must be inferred from the situation. Motivation is often left undefined; action is more important than motive. In general, Natives who knew their tribe's whole "mythbody" (as the Nez Perce scholar Archie Phinney called it) from childhood on, undoubtedly had a much richer and more subtle understanding of characters in the stories than we can have, knowing only a few of their exploits.

But despite such cultural differences and difficulties, Oregon's Indian story-heritage is accessible to study and enjoyment, if we use our wits. What's the imagination for, if not to find out understanding and kinship in difference? It helps that these Indian stories many of them probably very ancient are located imaginatively in Oregon landscapes we still know and love today; it also helps that gifted Indian writers like Elizabeth Woody, Ed Edmo, Gloria Bird, Vince Wannassay, and Phil George are adapting the old Oregon stories to new realities in their work proving the continuing vitality and relevance of Oregon's share of what has been rightly called "the first American literature."

Late in his life, the pioneer folklorist Jeremiah Curtin could still recall the awe he felt in 1884 on hearing the stories of an elderly Modoc woman named Koalak'aka or "Hard Working Woman": "She had more stories in her head than I dreamed it possible for anyone to learn and keep without aid of books." (The Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin, p. 335). Let Koalak'aka and what Curtin calls her "tenacious memory" stand for all Oregon tale-spinners, then and now, with wonderful stories in their heads to tell and let this be a book to celebrate their tellings.

J.R., Rochester/Madras
S.J., Washington D.C./Ontario

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