Memoirs of Nona Strake, Part Two

A memoir by Nellie (Nona) Lenora Reynolds, daughter of Charity Alice McKenney.

Continued from part one.

Most of the Indians had been taken to the new reservation on the Siletz River long before we came. A good part of the old, old sand spit upon which Waldport was built was used by them for a burial ground and had been for years. If a man owned a canoe it was out in a certain place and he was buried or placed (in it) along with some of his possessions and a small roof built over it. But if he owned two canoes the second one was turned upside down over the first. I know where several of such burial places were among the bull pines. All that remained of many graves was a few rotten pieces of moss grown boards and the sand was full of bright colored beads. I remember one up in the edge of old town where the roof had long since been gone and we could see the remains of an Indian woman dried and shrunken face with a broad band of bright red bead-work around her forehead. Not very far away lay the mummified body of a tiny baby, maybe dragged there by some wild animal. We, as kids, on our way to school used to, sometimes go out of our way, out among the buckberry bushes and look at it, a moss covered skull lay not far from our path. It had been there • no one knew for how long and no one paid the least attention to it. But one day one of the school boys ran out and gave it a boost with his bare foot. Something jingled! He took out several silver coins. The Indians used to place a man’s coins in his mouth at the time of burial.

I remember another moss grown skull. It sat upon a quite high limb of a big spruce near the Keady Spring. Some years later, when the population of Waldport had grown some, all those relics of the past were burned. Just why they were not given decent burial and the place properly marked is clear beyond my comprehension. The white man did that to the indians, after he had stolen their homes. But later, what did he do to our own white pioneer cemetery? Bill Keady’s father, a man for whom everyone who knew him had the deepest respect, gave a plot of ground for a cemetery just south of Yaquina John’s Point, upon what he thought was his own land. Later when surveys were completed it was found to be just beyond his line so he could not give the deed for as he had planned to do. Many of the early settlers were buried there, among them were my grandparents, Allen and Mary Reynolds, who had passed on before the land had belonged to my Uncle Samuel Reynolds, who had passed on before the land had changed hands many times. When the beach country started building up, those who remember, tried to have that plot set aside. Many protests went in, my own among them, but in spite of all, homes now stand where lie many of our early day settlers. Surely after weathering the hardships of this early day beach country they had earned a place to rest in peace. But there you have it again, that ground was worth a few dollars. “Dollars and some greedy white man!!”

Few people living at the present time can have any idea of the hardships the early coast pioneers had to endure. It took real grit and stick-to-it-ism to stay with it and try to eke out any kind of existence. There were so few paying jobs for a man that he literally had to make his living. Of course, the indians had done it very nicely for no one knows how many hundreds of years. Witness their old shell mounds, and would have kept on doing so for hundreds upon hundreds more. But the indians did not destroy. It took the greedy white man to do that and it didn’t take him long, either. The woods were full of elk, deer and bear. Every tiny stream was full of trout and streams the size of Big Creek and Reynolds Creek, south of Waldport, were full of salmon in the fall. Now look at them! I do not suppose there has been a salmon in either of these creeks for 40 years or more.

I remember too, what a time a few forward looking people had in getting the first hatchery on the river started. Old timers laughed at the idea. One said “0, there always has been lots of salmon and there always will be.” The early waste was awful. The first canneries could take only a few at a time because they had to be all used up that day – no cold storage. The boats would come in as full as could be without swamping. First come sold their fish, 6 cents each for silvers and 20 cents each for Chinook, even though one might weigh 75 lbs. The cannery was soon filled and all the rest of the boats simply dumped their loads into the bay. That was the way with the game. Several men might go out for elk – shoot all they could – just to be killing, then maybe, dress out a hind quarter or two and leave the rest. No Indian ever did a trick like that, They saved everything. They did not catch or kill more than they could use. As a child I used to watch them smoke and dry their meat. Every fall they came back to Yachts to get their winter’s food. They camped along near the rocks north of Yachats. They made racks out of thin split spruce and hung their fish and meat, cut in slim strips, on these sticks and dried and smoked it over small fires built below – built mostly of alder or vine maple. Salmon was cut in strips, but smelt, tom cod, pilchard and trout were smoked whole. Flat fish like perch, flounder or sole were dried flat on the ground on the dry grass, or on the slopes of the big shell mound that used to be near the present Adobe Motel. Elk, deer and bear were cut into strips and smoked. They even cured any stray seal or sea lion that might wash ashore.

Legend says that once a sizable whale came in on the north spit and after eating of it many of the tribe died of food poisoning. Another time when the Alsea tribe nearly all died off was when they got the measles. Their old remedy for everything – the hot steaming sweat house – followed by a dip in the cold salt water did not work with the measles.

Continue reading the third and final part

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