Nehalem Tillamook Tales
Melville Jacobs, Elizabeth Derr Jacobs, and Clara Pearson
Introduction by Jarold Ramsey.
(Told by Clara Pearson, recorded by Elizabeth Derr Jacobs, and edited by Melville Jacobs.)
A collection of 60 lively, entertaining, and memorable Native American stories. While scholars will appreciate the authenticity of Pearson's stories and the insights they provide into the Tillamook tradition, general readers will simply delight in the energy, wit, and freshness of the tales.
Clara Pearson (1861-1948), a full-blood speaker of Nehalem, dictated these stories in English to Elizabeth Derr Jacobs in 1934. Pearson had learned the tales in her native tongue as a child. The work was edited by Melville Jacobs, a noted scholar of northwest Native literature.
Jarold Ramsey's introduction considers the historical, cultural, and aesthetic barriers to our appreciation of the stories, and provides information to enhance our understanding. Ramsey, who teaches at the University of Rochester, is the author of Coyote Was Going There.
The book also contains, in addition to the originally published book and Ramsey's introduction, notes to the original edition, a map of the area in which the tales occure, and a verse translation of one of the tales by Dell Hymes of the University of Virginia.
About the author
Melville Jacobs (1902-1971) was an anthropologist known for his extensive fieldwork on Native cultures of the Pacific Northwest. He was a longtime faculty member at the University of Washington.
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Elizabeth Derr Jacobs (1903-1983) was an anthropologist specializing in the native cultures of the Pacific Northwest. Her fieldwork with the Nehalem Tillamook and southwestern Oregon Athabaskans made significant contributions to the linguistic, ethnographic, and folkloristic documentation of the Native peoples of western Oregon.
Read more about this author
Clara Pearson (1861-1948) was a Nehalem Tillamook storyteller.
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Map of Tillamook Country
Introduction by Jarold Ramsey
Nahalem Tillamook Tales
Notes to the Tales by Jarold Ramsey
Verse Retranslation of "Split-His-Own-Head"
By Dell Hymes
When Nehalem Tillamook Tales was first published in 1959, it was a notable year for such a book. 1959 was, after all, the year of Oregon's centennial of statehood, inspiring a general celebration of Oregon history and culture. For Melville and Elizabeth Jacobs, it marked a culmination of thirty years of research and writing to preserve what was still preservable of the traditional oral literatures of the Indians of Oregon and Washington, and to lay the groundwork for the recognition of the region's Native literary repertories, as imaginative literature. In addition to the present volume (published by University of Oregon Books as "Studies in Anthropology #5"), 1959 saw the publication of the second volume of Melville Jacobs's monumental Clackamas Chinook Texts, based on his discovery in 1929 in Oregon City of the last Clackamas storyteller, Victoria Howard; and also the release of his pioneering literary study of the Clackamas repertory, The Content and Form of an Oral Literature, to be followed in 1960 by The People Are Coming Soon: Analyses of Clackamas Chinook Myths and Tales.
And, underscoring the historical urgency and importance of the Jacobs' work, newspapers in western Oregon reported in May 1959 the death of "the last of the Tillamooks," 97-year-old Ellen Center, who had worked with Melville Jacobs as a linguistic informant thirty years earlier.
It would be pleasant to be able to observe that immediately after 1959 Oregonians and other twentieth-century Americans hearkened, however belatedly, to the Indian literary heritage that scholars like the Jacobses, worked so diligently to record. But the observation would be at least initially untrue. Despite the state's wealth of native cultures and languages, Nehalem Tillamook Tales continues to be the only scholarly book on Indian literatures ever published in the state of Oregon. And it has to be said that neither it nor Melville Jacobs's Clackamas studies had any immediate impact beyond the specialized world of linguistics and cultural anthropologists. As a senior English major at the University of Oregon in 1959, and subsequently as a graduate student in English at the University of Washington (where Melville Jacobs taught for over forty years), I don't recall ever hearing mention of the literary significance of books like Nehalem Tillamook Tales and Clackamas Chinook Texts. In response to such academic indifference, Jacobs wrote sarcastically in a 1962 issue of Northwest Review: "I think that I should tell the reader that long ago I embraced the conviction that Oregon Indians had literatures of great merit, and wondered how it might be possible to share my feelings with other Euroamericans, in spite of their prejudicial sentiments about the animistic supernaturalism and material poverty of nonliterate food-gathering peoples." He went on to ask, gloomily, "Can any Oregon oral arts become members of the world family of well-regarded literatures which are frequently read and enjoyed?" ("Tale of Indian Oral Literatures," p. 96).
But if 1959 failed to bring swift realization of such lofty hopes, it is good to be able to observe that, three decades later, the maps of Northwestern American literary interests are being extensively redrawn. What has been justly termed a "Native American literary renaissance"1 is clearly underway, with new Indian poets and novelists like N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Simon Ortiz, Louise Erdrich, and Duane Niatum receiving national recognition; and, correspondingly, a new generation of literary scholars is emerging nationwide to take up Melville Jacobs's challenge to make possible the literary understanding and appreciation of Native oral/traditional narratives and poetry. Scholars like Dell Hymes (a native of Portland), J. Barre Toelken (a member of the University of Oregon English faculty for many years), Dennis Tedlock, Larry Evers, William Bright, and others, are united, under the broad heading of ethnopoetics," in the aim of retranslating and reinterpreting Native oral traditions according to Indian literary perspectives and values, not Anglo biases. The work of the ethnopoetic movement, which got underway in the late 1960s, promises to widen and deepen our understanding of the Indian repertories to the extent that we can finally celebrate them as, collectively, "America's first literature."2 And so, if the significance of Nehalem Tillamook Tales escaped most of us back in 1959, the times are much more auspicious now to take it up in earnest, as a superbly accessible example of the achievements of Northwest Native verbal art.
The Tillamooks (to Lewis and Clark and other explorers, the "Killamucks") were, through the first four decades of the nineteenth century, the most formidable Indian group along the northwest American coast. Their villages guarded every river mouth from Seaside south to the Nestucca River, concentrating in Tillamook Bay; their language, part of the Salish tongue spoken by the Indian tribes of Puget Sound and interior British Columbia, set them off from their neighbors to the north, who spoke Chinookan languages, and those to the south, who spoke Yakonan (the Alsea) and Kusan (the Coos). Culturally, the Tillamooks seem to have partaken of several circles of influence: if, as Melville Jacobs says in his foreword to the first edition, they represented the southernmost reach of the great North Pacific Coast culture of accumulated wealth and status-consciousness, they also clearly had affinities with the Indians of northern California, and with the Chinookans of the Columbia River. One example of the distinctive cultural mix of the Tillamooks is their very unusual dual "cult-number" system: five is "magic" for males, and four for females. All other Northwest tribes had a single cult-number for both sexes-the Chinookans recognized five, for example, whereas the Puget Sound Salish held to four (Jacobs, Content and Style, p. 226).
Apart from what their recorded oral literature suggests, we have very little ethnographic information on the Tillamooks,3 but judging from the stories in this book, and from ethnographic studies of their neighbors to the north and south, their aboriginal way of life must have been based on a great and varied abundance of food-flounder, herring, smelt, and other fish from the ocean; seals and sea lions (and whales, whenever one would obligingly beach itself on their shores); salmon and steelhead to be speared during their up-river runs; elk, deer, and bear in the Coast Range; skunk-cabbage, berries, and yetska roots from the marshes and foothills. A basic pattern for Tillamook life seems to have been to spend the summer and fall each year in the interior hills, fishing, hunting, and gathering; but home (to judge from these stories) was clearly back along the shore, in substantial multifamily houses made of cedar planks laid over a framework of poles, and dug several feet into the ground.
As with most other Native American groups, the spiritual life of the Tillamooks revolved around the acquisition and proper use of animistic power. In animistic belief, power, rather like gravity or electricity, is immanent, not supernaturally remote but here to be acquired, in an infinitude of ways, both ritual and "accidental," and also at some risk to the acquirer. Thus simple wishing-out-loud could lead to remarkable accessions of good or bad fortune (see "The Star Husbands," #28, and "Broken Spear," #24), and contact with supernatural beings like Wild Woman usually brought a quantum of power-sometimes fatal to the kin of the "lucky" possessor, as in the story (#44) of an impudent young man who took on Wild Woman as a lover, and then rejected her. The chief rite of passage for adolescents of both sexes was a solitary powerquest into the mountains to obtain the sponsorship of a tutelary spirit-Elk, or Thunder, or one of the Winds (see #4:6, #14:17, etc.).
The very risky ability of certain men and women to summon power for healing, cursing, prophecy, divination, and so on marked them as shamans, figures more feared than admired.4 So far as the Tillamooks maintained a system of political power, it was invested in head-men, reportedly two on each river (Boas, "Notes," p. 4), men distinguished by hunting or war-making prowess and probably by unusual wealth, which they were obligated to use on behalf of the whole community for purposes of war, ceremony, and so on.5
In midwinter, the Tillamook communities occupied themselves with telling stories, and gathered together for extended spiritual exercises aimed at enhancing their collective well-being and possession of power through dancing, praying, and singing--indeed, it is a reasonable inference that, like the Maidu, Yurok, Yana, and other northern California tribes, they believed that their ceremonial dancing also helped the world maintain its proper balance, a form of the widespread Western Indian religious practice known as "participatory maintenance."6
Another central religious observance followed a death: after an intense but limited mourning period, the body of the deceased was placed in a cedar "house" and set in a specially built funerary canoe fitted out with tools, weapons, and food. This practice tallies with a Tillamook belief that the souls of the dead had a long arduous journey to reach the other world, governed by a'sayahal, South Wind; and it also coheres poignantly with their custom of keeping infants in canoe-shaped cradles. First and last they saw themselves as a maritime people (Boas, "Notes," p. 12).
By all accounts, the Tillamooks set great store by material wealth, reckoned in terms of slaves (bought or kidnapped from neighboring tribes), dentalium (a stringable shell, used throughout the Northwest as a kind of money), jewelry, weapons, elk-skins, cedar canoes (the artful carving of which was a special Tillamook skill), and of course storeable foodstuffs, such as dried and smoked fish, and whale and seal oil. There is evidence that they maintained regular trade affiliations, despite their fierce reputation amongst other tribes, with the Clackamas and other Columbia River Indians, bartering "salt-chuck" fish for wapato and camas (Hosmer). And in their own communities the accumulation of surplus wealth evidently inspired elaborate giveaways, in the spirit if not on the grand scale of the potlatches of their North Pacific Coast Salish cousins.
The first recorded Anglo contact with the Tillamooks came in 1788, when Robert Gray (later to "discover" the Columbia River) sailed into Tillamook Bay and sent a longboat ashore in quest of trade, as well as roots and greens to ward off scurvy. in retrospect, this first encounter was grimly prophetic: it collapsed into a quarrel between Gray's black cabin boy and a native over a cutlass; the cabin boy was killed on the spot, and the rest of the American crew barely escaped through the surf. Gray named the Bay "Murderer's Harbour," and pointedly avoided it on his famed 1792 voyage of Northwest discovery.7
From this encounter on, the reputation of the Tillamooks as a surly, inhospitable, dangerous people developed rapidly amongst the Americans and British. The accounts of the establishment of Fort Astoria/Fort George are, for example, full of references to the "Killamucks," blaming them for thievery, assaults, and murder; and in April 1832, Dr. John McLoughlin ordered a Hudson's Bay Company expedition into Tillamook country to exact retribution for the violent deaths of two HBC employees "who were savagely murdered by the above tribe twenty days before" (Baker, p. 268).8
To the extent that the Tillamooks actually earned their hostile reputation amongst British and American traders, trappers, and would-be settlers in the period 1790-1850, one must imagine their predicament, as they might have perceived it. Their old antagonists, the Chinookan Clatsops to the north,9 had accepted Anglo contact early on, and the terrible consequences of that contact could not have been missed by the Tillamooks: loss of land and access, growing cultural and technical dependence, rampant venereal disease, and a series of dreadful epidemics of ship-borne smallpox and malaria that left whole villages along the Lower Columbia decimated (Cooke; Taylor and Hoagl in; Beckham chapters 7 and 9). Already set apart both by their outland Salish language and by the great northern barrier of Neahkanie Mountain, and conscious that their coastal homeland was probably as bountiful as any along the American Northwest Coast, the Tillamooks quite naturally viewed Anglo intrusions with resentment, and adopted a policy of militant isolationism--wary trade with the "Bostons," yes (they already had iron knives and guns at the time of Lewis and Clark's visit in 1805-6), but no settlements and no entangling agreements.
This was essentially the impression of the Tillamooks vis-á-vis the rest of the world created in Don Berry's fine historical novel of 1960, Trask. Set in 1848, Berry's work follows Elbridge Trask, a historical figure for whom the Trask River is named, as he braves natural hardships and the implacable hostility of the Tillamooks (especially of their black headman, Kilchis) in order to obtain land for settlement near the Bay. The kind of resistance Berry describes seems to correspond to historical fact--only the real Trask and a handful of other settlers managed to establish themselves in Tillamook country by the 1850s and, although the Territorial Legislature created Tillamook County in 1853, active white settlement did not begin until after the Civil War.
Meanwhile the inexorable decline of the people whose sacred homeland this was proceeded, as elsewhere in the Oregon Country, abetted by epidemics, assimilation into other tribes (as on the nearby Grand Ronde and Siletz reservations), betrayal by government officials on every level, and general cultural disruption. Where Lewis and Clark had estimated their nation at 2,200 in 1805-6, by 1845 the estimate was put at 400, and by 1910, when Clara Pearson (1861-1948) was living in Garibaldi with her own family and her mother and father, they were numbered among the 25 or 30 surviving Tillamook Indians.10
Anyone hoping to engage a body of traditional Native American narratives as literature would do well to reflect on Melville Jacobs's 1962 challenge:
Are Oregon's Indian literatures so shabbily represented, in such deteriorated versions, or so bleakly unaccompanied by backgrounds of the sociocultural systems which had maintained them, that annotative commentary on their features of expressive content and style is not possible? ("Fate of Indian Oral Literatures," pp. 96-7)
Perhaps here and elsewhere Jacobs does paint too dark a picture of the difficulties inherent in such study, and in particular it might be argued that he seriously underestimates the ability of intelligent and sympathetic Anglo readers to grasp the imaginative substance of Native texts, and at least something of their formal strategies. But the obstacles before us are considerable, not just in terms of the loss of ethnological and linguistic knowledge that Jacobs emphasizes, but also in terms of the cultural and literary biases that we tend to bring to any oral-traditional material.
Consider that these Tillamook narratives, typical of their kind, come to us from three radical removes. First of all, they have been transcribed from one verbal mode into another--that is, from oral performance within an anonymous, nonliterate tradition into readable print. Second, they have undergone translation from the matrix of their Native language, into English-in the present instance, Clara Pearson actually told her stories to Elizabeth Jacobs in English, but apparently did so through a process of rapid self-translation (see Elizabeth Jacobs's preface, p. viii), a circumstance I will return to later. Third, these narratives come to us as expressive embodiments of a culture radically different from our own, so that in reading such material, we must somehow manage to intertextualize them---that is, view them simultaneously in the light of what we can know about the Tillamook cultural way and in the light of our own way. Pursuing one perspective without the other is certain to yield either of two forms of interpretive distortion all too common in intercultural study. If we engage these texts exclusively as Tillamook Salish materials, then we restrict them to the status of artifacts, museum relics of a vanished people; if we engage them uncritically as "stories" in our terms, without benefit of ethnographic understanding, then we inevitably misappropriate and coopt them ethnocentrically according to our preconceptions about literature and its purposes.
The latter distortion is of course the more common and apparent, disfiguring most attempts to "claim" Indian traditional literature wholesale as "American literature" from Hiawatha on. But the imposition of a strictly anthropological or linguistic perspective on the Native repertories has had, I think, its own pernicious consequences over a century of scholarship, in severely retarding the recognition of the rich literary artistry of these repertories--an artistry that Native Americans clearly cherished (what else made these stories persistently memorable to them?), and that can and should speak to us, over the dislocations of literary mode, language, and culture.
In the ongoing work of ethnopoetics, embracing anthropology, ethnology, folklore, linguistics, and literary theory, the two perspectives are held to be complementary, each essential to the aim of fully revealing the literary achievements of tribal peoples. In Dell Hymes's judicious observation, the pioneer linguists and ethnographers who recorded American Indian stories and songs
preserved more than they knew: authentic monuments, to be sure, but something more. We must work to make visible and audible again that something more--the literary form in which the native words had their being--so that they can move again at a pace that is surer, more open to the voice, more nearly their own.11
Now we should turn directly to the contents of Nehalem Tillamook Tales. In terms of the kinds of interpretive difficulties I have been outlining, it is surely one of the most accessible scholarly collections of Native texts now available, and one of the most readable. The fact that Clara Pearson told her stories to Elizabeth Jacobs in English might raise serious questions of verbal authenticity (as it does in many popular "Indian" collections), except for two countervailing facts. First, she was fluent in Tillamook Salish (specifically in the Nehalem dialect), and had learned her repertory of stories from her father in that language (see the preface, p. vii-viii). Second, the research of May Mandelbaum Edel on variability in Tillamook storytelling, based on a systematic comparison of Pearson's native-language dictations to Edel in 1931 (mostly unpublished) and her English versions given to Elizabeth Jacobs a few years later, and between both of these and Franz Boas's 1890 transcriptions from another informant, Hyas John (in both Tillamook and English), reveals a remarkable degree of stability in the literature (Edel, "Stability"; Boas, "Traditions"). Evidently, unlike Southwest cultures where considerable innovation and improvisation by storytellers is acceptable by convention, amongst the Tillamooks a convention of literary conservatism prevailed--the traditional story-units were to be changed as little as possible. Clara Pearson's memory (see preface, p. vii) that she and other children were made to learn the stories "line-by-line" in special sessions readily explains how the convention was maintained, even in latter-day Tillamook life, if not why.
So in Clara Pearson's fluent, energetic English narrations we are, presumably reasonably close to the substance and order of her Tillamook models. The image of this accomplished storyteller thinking her stories in Tillamook and rapidly translating them into English is appealing, and expressive, I think, of the vital persistence and adaptability of Indian traditional literature. Recently I heard a Wasco matron, an old acquaintance whose considerable storytelling prowess I had never guessed at, perform a Wasco myth in English ii with all the trimmings," breaking into Wasco Chinookan for the story's dramatic songs, and then, catching her breath, telling us with good-humored exasperation, "I wish I could be telling you this in Wasco--it's hard to get it right in English"--and then going on, for her own delight, it seemed, as well as ours, in what appeared to be a very swift and agile process of translation, not only from the one language-system to the other, but from one culture to the other. Pearson -who had acquired a certain popularity in Garibaldi for telling her stories in English before her work with May Edel and Elizabeth Jacobs (Edel, "Stability," p. 117)--would no doubt have sympathized with my friend's exasperation, and applauded her efforts at complex intercultural translation.12
Overall, without doubting at all their essential authenticity relative to Tillamook tradition, I find in Pearson's narratives extensive evidence of accommodation to an Anglo audience or, to be more precise, to an Anglo readership. Perhaps she was encouraged in this by the Jacobses who, in a number of editorial measures--phonetic simplification of some Tillamook words, replacement of others with English equivalents, sparse annotations, and so on--appear to have aimed at a balance of scholarly standards and general readability in their book.13 But the main accommodations are clearly Pearson's own. For example, there are her numerous, carefully-set-off and generally very helpful asides and explanations--some specific to particular episodes, as with her careful summary interpretation of #14, the story of Wild Woman and the brother and sister who married each other (p. 58); and others noting in passing how the behavior of some character typifies his or her role in the whole Tillamook mythology, as with her parenthetical remark about Ice as an actor in the adventures of his nemesis, the trickster-transformer South Wind: "(Ice was a bad old man but he was comical too. He just could not leave anything alone, he had to have his nose in everything.)" (p. 146)
Likewise, in telling her stories Clara Pearson usually strategically defers to our Anglo impatience with the symbolic repetition of actions according to tribal cult-numbers that is so prominent a structural feature of Native American oral tradition. instead of drawing episodes out to their full five (or four) consecutive reenactments, she typically jumps from the first to the last (and climactic) event in the series: "The next two brothers went the same way. Everything was just the same except for the fifth one, the youngest brother" (#35, p. 115). One wonders if she took such liberties when she was telling her stories to May Edel in the Tillamook language. In any event, in her English tellings she seems to be personally impatient with the traditional narrative patternings, dutifully noting what she is eliding, but then getting on with the main line of the story Anglo-fashion. To explain her nontraditional attitude in terms of acculturation per se is too simple, surely: on this score as on others she seems to be following a conscious artistic strategy of adjusting old stories to new contexts and conventions of understanding.
But it is in the distinctive texture of Clara Pearson's narrations that we find, I think, the most salient evidence of her self-conscious adjustment of the Tillamook repertory toward the Anglo print-based literary mode. Compared to most Native American narrative texts--Melville Jacobs's presentations of Clackamas Chinook myths, for example, or Franz Boas's 1890 versions of some of these same Nehalem stories--her storytelling style is persistently rich in descriptive, motivational, and behavioral detail and, as regards the narrative itself, in expository and transitional material. In contrast, Melville Jacobs notes (speaking of Victoria Howard) that "[The] recitalist never once verbalized a motivation, feeling, or mood of the actors of a myth or tale" (The People Are Coming Soon, p. x). This disconcerting sparseness and abruptness in most transcribed Native texts, expressive of a style of storytelling that is premised on the mediative advantages of oral performance and on an audience already familiar with the elements of what is being told, is here replaced by a style that appears to be largely independent of both, although eminently "listenable" in the mind's ear (like all good prose).
Consider the expressive fullness and accessibility of the following, which opens the tale of a man's weird sojourn with Thunder Bird:
A man lived at Tillamook. In the wintertime he went far up small streams to spear steelhead. When he went fishing he wore a waterproof cape. It was fastened at the waist with a belt. He wore a spruce-root rain hat. It was held on tightly by an inner cedar-bark band. One day he put on his cape and his rain hat and started out. It was a bad day, hailing, and there was lightning. When the hail stopped he would go along and look for fish. He did not get any. Soon again there was thunder and lightning. He became angry, he said, "'Confound it! That Thunder!" He cursed him. "I cannot get any fish," he said. "You [Thunder] might just as well come along and take me with you." Then how it hailed! He stood under a tree for shelter.
Now he saw a man, a huge man. The big man said, "'You wanted me to come. I have come to take you home with me." (#51, p. 767)14
Pearson goes on from this masterful beginning to develop a wonder-tale of an ordinary mortal living with giants (Thunder Bird and his wife); her management of imaginative scale is worthy of Swift's in Gulliver's Travels, and is as rich in evocative details, both of the physical disproportion between the man and his huge but good-hearted hosts, and of their reactions to each other's size. Thunder Bird's wife, for example, is enchanted with the man's skill at making his own spears and knives, which she can barely see--"Oh, you are so cute! How can you manage to make things so tiny? My goodness! You who are so little know so much about building things." (p. 168) And the man's own Gulliveresque curiosity about the giants leads him to wonder about their sexual practices--which old woman Thunder obligingly describes: "'Yes, yes, grandchild!'she said.'We are very large indeed. When we copulate, when grandpa lies on me, we reach quite high. We must have big, wide covers to cover ourselves.'Then he was ashamed. 'After this,' he promised himself, 'I will not think any such foolish things.' " (pp. 169-70)
Both in the explicit physical detailing in such passages, and in their direct rendering of emotions, then, Pearson diverges considerably from the characteristic dramatic terseness of Native American oral narratives, at least as we have them in text-form--approximating, I think, quite self-consciously, the texture of Anglo prose narrative. Again, I am dwelling on this feature of Nehalem Tillamook Tales not to denigrate its contents as somehow less than authentic, but on the contrary to suggest that these stories may well represent an important evolutionary stage between oral and print-based Native literary art. Was Clara Pearson an avid reader? Did she actively help Elizabeth Jacobs in getting her dictations "right" on the page? Did she ever go to the next step of "self-dictation" and actually write out her own stories? These are, alas, questions without answers, but I want to propose that one of the fascinations of these stories is that in their readability, according to Anglo conventions, they anticipate the efforts of latter-day Indian writers like Leslie Silko, Louise Erdrich, and James Welch, in whose novels and stories Native oral traditions are radically transfigured in modern English, asserting their vitality anew despite the radical change of medium.15
If Nehalem Tillamook Tales appears in some conscious degree to be a collection of "stories told for reading," the tales are nevertheless thoroughly, faithfully Indian in substance, sharing essential features of content, form, and outlook with the traditional repertories of other Western tribes.16 As Elizabeth Jacobs explains in her preface (p. ix), the collection is organized according to a three-part mythic chronology as understood by the Tillamooks and their Indian neighbors. Each of the first two eras overlaps the next to some extent:
The Myth Era per se, represented by myth-narratives disclosing a time when the world (meaning the specific homeland of the people) is "raw," unfinished, in some respects chaotic, populated by freaks and monsters as well as the prototypes of the people-to-come, who as yet lack the rituals, customs, and know-how of civilized life. Note that Pearson offers no Tillamook cosmogony or creation-myth per Genesis: this omission is typical of most of the Northwest oral literatures.
The Transformation Era, represented by myths about how one or more potent figures (here, South Wind; elsewhere, Coyote amongst the Sahaptians and Chinookans; Raven amongst North Pacific Coast groups) journeyed through the land, transforming things, making permanent reality out of the fluid and chancey circumstances of the Myth Age, and doing so, not according, to some divine benevolence or grand teleological scheme, but rather ad hoc, as occasion and the Trickster's tricksterish, all-too-human nature suggest.
The Period of True Happenings, conveyed by stories rather than myths (the Tillamook words for the distinction have not been recorded, to my knowledge) of times when the world is populated by real people, identifiable in some cases as ancestors (p. 173). Supernatural beings are still extant, of course, and extraordinary Myth-Age-like happenings still occur, but without setting mythic precedents, or effecting permanent alterations of reality. The term "historical era" is sometimes used to label this third period, but it is seriously misleading: although in these "true" stories the people's fully evolved cultural identity and "way" are clearly recorded, "history" in the Anglo sense does not begin until the coming of the Whites, and the onset of what in Native terms might be called a second, deconstructive "transformation era." Clara Pearson's repertory explicitly excludes Contact Era stories.17
After sampling only a few stories in this collection, readers will notice the prominence throughout of conventionalized situations and events-diving contests, "Youngest Smartest" amongst five siblings, chains of arrows to reach the sky, disguised avengers locating their intended victims through interrogation of the victims' kin, lecherous tricksters disguised as infants, and so on. In folkloristic terms, such elements are motifs: they constitute the narrative formulae from which oral/traditional literature, Indian and otherwise, is constructed. This reliance on stock plot devices should not be bothersome: if they are the staple ingredients of our sitcoms and crime-thrillers, they are also-under much greater imaginative and moral pressures, to be sure-the stock-in-trade of storytellers like Dickens, Hardy, and Shakespeare. Indeed, as in the works of these authors, there can be a special pleasure in seeing how artfully a given story refigures and exploits the motifs it shares with other, very different stories.18
Narrative motifs may be distributed across a wide area, indicating direct or indirect cultural contacts between groups. In Nehalem Tillamook Tales, certain formulae suggest the Tillamooks' links with tribes to the east, north, and south. For example, when ice finds a village of mouthless people in his travels (#1:8-10), and performs oral surgery on them, he duplicates, point for point, one of Coyote's escapades in the Wasco Chinookan repertory. Likewise, Ice's misadventure in the same cycle (#1:6) in a house temptingly full of food but guarded by spirits has affinities with an episode in the Trickster cycle of the North Coast Tsimshian Indians. And the configuration of elements in the Wild Woman incest story (#14) mark it as a northern extension of a California field or "set" of incest stories generally associated (though not here) with Loon.19
(One of the most delightful of Clara Pearson's stories-#37, Split-His-Own-Head" bears a remarkable resemblance to a wonderful "ninny" tale among the Zunis of Arizona, "Pelt Kid and His Grandmother" (Tedlock, pp. 191-213) but, given the geographical and cultural distance between the two groups, the similarity of elements seems to be coincidental, based on the value to each of having a story inviting laughter at the confusion of literal-minded adolescents trying to cope with adult idioms and euphemisms.)
Nehalem Tillamook Tales is also typical of Native oral literature in relying on a cast of stock characters or, as Melville Jacobs has taught us to call them, "actors." Each of the major actors embodies certain propensities of conduct that constitute his or her identity from story to story; psychological complexity and depth is not at issue in Clara Pearson's individual characterizations, but vivid representation of selected human traits certainly is. What follows is a sketch typology of leading figures in her texts.20
South Wind. The Tillamook Trickster/Transformer, whose adventures and doings in his epic journey northward from Nestucca to the Lower Columbia give the Tillamook environment and culture much of their ultimate character. Mischievous, over-sexed, uninhibited, imprudent and resourceful--in short, a classical Native Trickster type. Late in his transformative cycle, after he has given birth to a daughter(!), South Wind appears to undergo an apotheosis familiar in Native Trickster cycles: having transformed the world in his hit-and-miss fashion, he retires to a cave "in the south," there to observe his people and inflict punishment on them when they deserve it.21
Ice (g eclá). Another Trickster-hero, lacking South Wind's primary transformative powers, although on his "round trip" from Nehalem and back (which may be a kind of parody of South Wind's journey) he does establish some rules of conduct. Unlike South Wind, who is generally a loner, Ice usually belongs to a group, often in the role of an impulsive and inept leader. In stories outside his own cycle, he usually turns up as a buffoon and troublemaker, sometimes serving as a comic foil to a legitimate hero. The Tillamooks' concept of the unequal relationship between Ice and South Wind as trickster-protagonists is dramatized in a charming, seasonal myth (#13) in which South Wind brings warm weather to Nehalem country, thereby melting Ice and his wives Snow and Hail.
Wild Woman (xÍlgo). A middle-aged ogress, equivalent to the female bogeys of the Chinookans (at'at'áhlia) and the North Coast Salish (dzonoqua). A dangerous creature of volatile contradictory emotions and limited intelligence; she has a strong mothering instinct, but often ends up demanding sex with the "sons" and "grandsons" she kidnaps-a specialist in incest. She is cannibalistic as well. Incapable of social life, she nevertheless suffers from envy and paranoia (p. 60). At the end of her turbulent career, she fittingly turns herself into Surf.22
Thunder Bird (nixíxunu). As in the North Coast cultures, chief amongst the Tillamook supernaturals: dangerous, but a great source of power to those who survive an encounter with him, and hospitable in his own household.
Beaver. Antisocial, irascible, a loner; capable of stealing the sun and causing floods.
Raven. Kindly, avuncular, helpful to people in trouble.
Blue Jay. A female gossip and messenger; as such, a plot device.
Crane. Wild Woman's often-absentee husband who sometimes comes to the aid of her victims and transports people over rivers with his long legs.
Bald Eagle. A householder and "solid citizen."
Human heroes. These are generally distinguished as their stories unfold by self-control, courage, resourcefulness, self-reliance. Examples: "Placed-Next-To-Testicles," the unknowing product of sibling incest (caused by Wild Woman's curse) in #14, in whose heroic career his parents' evil is transformed into great personal power. The unnamed sons of the murder-victim in "Who the Hell Was His Mother" (#8), who heroically collaborate to avenge their father's death at the hands of a people living in the sky and restore him to life." "Neshukulayloo" (#57), an intriguing Amazon who "was too brave, too strong to marry. No man could handle her," and who ferociously defends her independence against attacks by envious males--"it was just Indian style to be jealous of her strength." (p.180)
Such figures would have been cherished by the Tillamooks throughout their lives, amusing, frightening, outraging, chastening, encouraging, instructing by turns; clarifying by their dramatic actions and interactions the possibilities of human life in the Tillamook world.24 Clara Pearson's stories probably represent only a portion of her people's traditional literature and, as we have seen, they come to us, and we to them, under severe disadvantages. But taken together in this book they possess, I think, an impressive imaginative wholeness, reflecting the unity for the Tillamooks of what the Nez Perce scholar Archie Phinney called the tribal mythbody. Speaking of his own transcriptions in terms of their relation to the Nez Perce mythology, Phinney (p.ix) urged his readers to try to intuit the whole literature in any of its parts, as a Native audience would have done:
Any substantial appreciation of these tales must come not from the simple elements of drama unfolded in them but from vivid feelings within oneself, feeling as a moving current all the figures and the relationships that belong to the whole mythbody.
To the extent that we can feel th is expressive current running through Nehalem Tillamook Tales, we do so because of the exemplary collaboration of Melville and Elizabeth Jacobs, and Clara Pearson, commencing in Garibaldi, Oregon, more than half a century ago. On their part, the Jacobses were sympathetic, exacting, tactful editors, in this as in their other work dedicated to the recovery and appreciation of the "witty or lordly utterances" (to use Melville Jacobs's fine phrase ["The Fate of Indian Oral Literatures," p. 97]) that constitutes the literary art of the Native peoples of the Northwest. And for her part, I hope that this republication of Nehalem Tillamook Tales reveals the artistic achievement of Clara Pearson. We would do her and her stories a great disservice in seeing her only as "the informant," only a faceless, passive custodian and vehicle of oral tradition. Pearson's artistry is tangible in every page here: in her adjustments from hearing the stories in Tillamook to reading them in English; in her sure-handed refabulation of old narrative formulae into scenes of great dramatic power (as in the climactic scenes of the incest story of Wild Woman and the brother and sister); in her loving evocations of the distinctive weather and landmarks of the Tillamook homeland; in her gift for startling images and figures, as when brave little Muskrat returns sunlight to the people after its theft by Beaver ("He carried that sun just as if it were a clock." [p. 84]); in her exploitations, both broad and subtle, of the Tillamook taste in humor.
Thinking of Clara Pearson alongside two other Northwest Indian storytellers who were also providentially discovered and recorded as "the last of their kind"--Victoria Howard of the Clackamas Chinook, and Charles Cultee of the Cathlamet Chinooks--some would no doubt counsel skepticism about claims for artistic merit in such material. After all, so the argument runs, it is all too easy in our culture to sentimentalize last survivors and their sad artifacts just for being last. But maybe this position is backwards. The literary legacy of Clara Pearson, like that of Victoria Howard and Charles Cultee, suggests that she may have come over the years to be the last surviving keeper of her people's literary art precisely-- tragically--because she was a gifted and dedicated artist.25