Heceta, Oregon, USA

Heceta, Oregon, USA

in Postcards

Built in 1894, between Florence and Yachats, there is a lighthouse (from 1894) the 56-footas depicted in this postcard. The headland is named after Bruno de Heceta, a Spanish explorer who appeared in the 18th Century, but before that it has been a place where local people called the Siuslaw.

In 1888, white settlers moved into the area and claimed 66 hectares of the surrounding land, and the United States Lighthouse Service approved the building of the lighthouse.

Bruno de Heceta would become the first European to see the mouth of the Columbia River, though rough tides prevented his boat from travelling down it.

I presume there are very few Basques living in Oregon. There are unfortunately very few local Siuslaw – due to the usual combination of European diseases and violent human greed.

siuslaw
siuslaw – this photo is from the incredible Lane Community College online library – libraryguides.lanecc.edu

The Siuslaw and Kuitsh peoples were closely related peoples who lived along the Central Oregon Coast, around the modern cities of Reedsport and Florence. They lived in a mild, rainy, marine climate with ample resources of fish, plants, timber, and game. They followed a seasonal round of hunting and gathering, moving each season to harvest salmon, berries, elk and deer, camas bulbs, fern roots, and shellfish. Sometimes they hunted seals and sealions. The Siuslaw and Kuitsh spoke dialects of the same language, called Siuslawan. It is now extinct. The last speakers of Siuslawan were interviewed in the 1950s.

Some words for animals and plants in this language were (with approximate pronunciations):

acorn kunar’k
goose yak
oak mu’kwa
owl pupuhu’nik!
pelican sku’ma
raven mitkuni’ku
salmon kli’ai
shark ka’tai
spider ku’mit

The Siuslaw and Kuitsh did not define themselves as a people in a political or even a linguistic sense, in the way that modern nations and ethnic groups define themselves. So it seems much like how Celtic “Nations” like Wales and Ireland were bunched together as Celtic, these people have been grouped together by outsiders looking in.

Perhaps this might have been similar to Ireland before the Viking’s arrived. Almost all organisation was at the village level, which was based on related males, with their wives and children. Everyone outside the village was a “foreigner” though each village had extensive relationships of marriage, trade and alliances with their neighbors. Some people probably spoke several of the nearby languages. Society was divided into four approximate “classes”. The elite were defined by wealth, and below them were progressively poorer people of lesser status. At the bottom were the slaves.

siusla-map
siusla-map – libraryguides.lanecc.edu

The population was much more disease-free than contemporary Europeans and Asians – a dozen important infectious native diseases existed.  The first smallpox appeared on the Oregon Coast in 1775, probably introduced by Spanish sailors. From then on measles, whooping cough, influenza, syphilis and dysentery visited the coast in a deadly series. In 1830 what was possibly malaria killed thousands of Western Oregon people, and the Siuslaw population may have been halved again by smallpox in 1836. The population dropped from about 3,000 to only a few hundred in 30 or 40 years.

Some Siuslaw and Kuitsh people live today throughout Western Oregon, and are represented by several federally recognized tribes: the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw, and the the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.

Reference:

Heceta Head Light – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heceta_Head_Light

The Siuslaw and Kuitsh: Native Americans of the Oregon Coast: home – https://libraryguides.lanecc.edu/c.php?g=598770&p=4145125

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