Thursday, November 01, 2007

Highlights from The World of the Kalapuya

Yesterday I mentioned the book The World of the Kalapuya: A Native People of Western Oregon. Today I wanted to write up some of the highlights I found most interesting.


I hadn't realized that hazelnuts grew in abundance, maintained along with oaks in the grassland savannahs via prescribed burns by the Kalapuya. The natives harvested the hazelnuts in July or August while still green, then spread them out to dry for 3-4 days. That may give us the best chance of beating the squirrels to them!

The Kalapuya collected grasshoppers, conveniently killed and pre-cooked by the deliberately set grassland fires. Apparently they could store the grasshoppers for the winter, which I hadn't expected. I don't think I've read anywhere else about people storing insects for the winter. Unfortunately, the book doesn't give any details on whether the grasshoppers required further processing for storage.

The Kalapuya ate yellow jacket larvae! When they found a yellowjacket nest, they built a fire on top of it, which drove off or killed the adults. Then they dug up the nest and ate the roasted larvae or stored them for later eating. The next time I visit Mossback Farm (where I interned a couple of years ago) in the summer we'll have to try this one out!

I learned of a staple food I'd never heard of before! Apparently natives harvested multiple bushels per family of the seed of tarweed, Madia sp. (in the Composite family). Again, the natives used set fires to aid in harvest; the fires burned off the tar-like bits and loosened the seeds for easy collecting. I definitely need to seek out this plant and try eating its seeds!

The book mentions Kalapuya harvesting camas shoots in March for boiling. I don't understand whether they boiled and ate the green shoots, or if they boiled the root (or maybe the root and the shoot?) Plants for a Future database doesn't say anything about edibility of the leaves or young shoots...

I read of another bulb the natives ate, called Cat's ear or Pussy's ear in this book. Pojar calls it Subalpine Mariposa Lily or Mountain Cat's Ear, and gives the botanical name Calochortus tolmiei.

List of some of the other lesser-known plant foods mentioned in the book: camas, wild onion, wapato, yampah, wild carrot, cow parsnip, Lomatium sp., skunk cabbage (people probably ate it more as an early spring desperation food than for any gourmet qualities), lupine roots, cattails, wild mint and yerba buena, balsamroot, and ferns (especially bracken).

I found it interesting that very few salmon ran past Chinook territory, which ended at the Willamette Falls. Only in times of heavy enough rain for salmon to jump the falls and continue further up the Willamette did Kalapuya bands have access to salmon within their own territory. The Kalapuya did trade for salmon and paid to fish for salmon in other tribes territories, and bands on the west side of the Willamette probably had access to salmon runs in the coast range waterways. They also fished for some other species found in their territories. But they never developed a culture centered around salmon the same way other Pacific Northwest tribes did.


The Kalapuya lived semi-sedentary lives, with main villages inhabited year round but with many temporary camps in different places from spring through fall to harvest, hunt, and fish seasonal resources. The permanent houses sound similar to others on the coast, built with wood framing and using planks, bark, grass, and dirt as siding, roofing, and insulation materials. They included opening(s) in the roof above the hearth(s) inside for heating and lighting. They usually built large houses for multiple families to share.

If temporary camps needed any shelter at all, the Kalapuya built quick & easy huts and windbreaks using brush, rushes, grasses, and branches of conifers. Sometimes they used mats (usually made of tule, maybe of other materials too?) which they carried from site to site to make temporary shelters. (They also used these mats for sleeping on and as dividers between different families in the permanent houses in the main village.)


I've read of some cultures where whites introducing competive games got funny looks or got killed for bringing in such a horrible concept. The book describes a hocky-like stick & ball game played by the Kalapuya. But the book doesn't give enough details or explore the culture of the game enough for me to know whether this clearly represented competition in a way some other cultures didn't have. (The book does quote an unidentified writer as saying '... the rules were that there were no rules.' and the book continues "People got hurt--sometimes seriously.")

Storytelling, as with all indigenous cultures without written language, carried the history and knowledge and wisdom of the tribe from one generation to the next. I found this interesting: "Storytellers followed rules which insured that stories were told correctly. In some bands, a story could not be told unless there were three people who knew it well. These experts could correct the storyteller if he or she made a mistae so that it would not be perpetuated."


This seems worth typing up almost verbatim from the book:

September: First month of the Kalapuya year. Small groups are still living in their summer camps scattered across the valley, collecting acorns, berries, and camas roots. Prairie burning begins for tarweed seed harvesting.

October: Month when "hair [leaves] falls off." Wapato harvest time begins in the northern Willamette Valley, and the northern Kalapuya groups move to camps close to the lakes where the wapato grows. Groups in the southern Valley complete their camas harvesting.

November: Approaching winter. The Kalapuya prepare their winter homes for the coming cold weather.

December: "Good month." The weather becomes colder but is still mild. The Kalapuya settle into their villages for the winter.

January: Month of "burned breast". The winter becomes cold and the old people sit so close to the house fires that their chests get singed. The Kalapuya spend much time in their winter houses, feeding the fires. Winter dances begin.

Februrary: "Out of provision month." The end of winter finds the Kalapuya short on stored provisions, and it is a lean time. Hunters spend more time in the woods trying to find game.

March: First spring. People begin to leave the winter village, making short camping trips to gather food, including the first shoots of camas, which are only finger high at this time.

April: "Budding month." The Kalapuya make more trips onto the valley floor to gather roots as the camas grows higher.

May: "Flower time." The camas begins blossoming as the Kalapuya leave their winter houses to camp out for the summer. The spring runs of salmon head up the Willamette River and its tributaries.

June: Month of camas harvesting. The camas becomes fully ripe. The women begin to gather and dry camas bulbs for the following winter, an activity pursued until September or October. The people also "catch all sorts of fish". Berry picking begins.

July: "Half-summer time." Weather is hot and dry. The Kalapuya begin to collect hazelnuts and caterpillars.

August: End of summer. The weather remains hot as the people continue to gather a variety of berries, nuts, and roots in preparation for the winter.


Snir said...

I don't think those insects are kosher, what about the jews of your tribe?


chiggles said...

Here's an excellent resource on entomophagy: The Human Use of Insects as a Food Resource: A Bibliographic Account in Progress ( )
Don't know if it covers the peoples you're looking into, but there's a lot there.

FarmerScrub said...

Hi chiggles,

Thanks for the pointer! I've seen that book in the past but hadn't thought of checking it out now that I'm learning more about this specific region.

Hey Corum,

Good to hear from you. :) We've discussed the matter, and we want to hire you as the official Jewish consultant for our tribal structure and planned activities. We can pay you in Russian translations of Zelazny books (since no one else seems to want them!)

Fortunately, we intend for our tribe to allow everyone to do pretty much whatever they want, so if some people want to eat grasshoppers and yellowjacket grubs and caterpillars, they can; if other people want to eat nothing but nuts and berries, they can do that instead! So long as it all functions as a tribe, we don't care how people go about their daily lives. (We take that approach for now, anyway.)


rich said...

Oh, man, can't wait to roast up some yellowjackets.....


crystal said...

Scrub- Excellent post. As a Salem resident I have done a bit of reading on the Kalapuya as well but you have dug much more deeply. You found some really interesting stuff! I've been intending to try tarweed as well but... things get busy. I will be interested to know about the yellowjackets.

PS I just took a vacation to Capelookout (near Tillamook) and was amazed once again (last year found the same thing at South Beach near Newport) that the Evergreen huckleberries are ripe right now. They are all over both camp grounds though not all the bushes produce. The ones at Capelookout are much larger than South beach. They are tart and good but not nearly as good as the Mountain Huckleberries I gathered past Detroit in September.