Monday, June 18, 2018

A good library day--and salmon stories

Fishing at Celilo; Railroad Bridge in background
Thursday, June 7.  A call from the newspaper editor: He’d looked at the current exhibit on dams and salmon and attended Bobbie Conner’s talk at the opening on Sunday. “So when,” Paul asked, “did the biologists really figure out the migration patterns of salmon?”

Fortunately, I had a handy timeline put out by the Native Fish Society, describing the decline of Columbia River salmon from 1779 to present, which told the story of early scientific opinion: Pacific salmon don’t pay attention to natal streams, but randomly find rivers to swim and nesting gravel in which to deposit and fertilize their eggs. The result of such thinking—and it persisted well into the 20th century, was that man could outdo nature, could build hatcheries and hatch fish faster than Columbia River canneries could harvest and process them.

“Got it, Paul,” I said, and emailed him the timeline. He was grateful. The answer to his question, by the way, looks to be 1938! Although Canadian scientists had started preaching natal stream care in the 1880s, the Americans had become taken with the

No sooner had I finished the conversation and emailing with Paul and retired schoolteacher and two-book author Julie Kooch walked in and asked whether I knew if Alvin Josephy had written about an Indian incident at Corral Creek. We glanced at Josephy before going to the Horner Papers. And there, on pages 376 and 377, we found the story of a pre-white battle between the Nez Perce and a band of Snake Indians at the “Notch” on Corral Creek. The Nez Perce had trapped the Snake and killed them all, according to Indian informants of the day. One of them, John Reubin, who passed the story on to white settlers, claimed a scar from the battle.

Julie listened as I read and nodded in approval. It was exactly as she remembered someone describing it to her years ago—but there were doubters, and Julie left happily with pages copied to show them her find.

Julie taught school in Enterprise for many years, but of late has been riding for local ranchers, collecting stories, and writing books. The first was My Life on Joseph Creek, and the second called Riding the Canyons. They are full of pictures as well as stories—candy for people fascinated by the Snake River and adjoining Canyon Country.

And while we’re at it, on the same day or one day before or after, a woman from Boise looked at the dams and salmon exhibit and zeroed in on a quote from Alphonse Halfmoon. “I think he’s my cousin,” she said, “actually, married to a non-Indian cousin of mine. I always wanted to talk to him at family get-togethers, but was too shy.” We made a quick call to Tamastslikt, and the Boise woman got to talk with a long-lost relative.

I could go on. Summer is a time of amazing guests, and the current exhibit elicits their stories: “Dad took me to Celilo before the dam,” and “We would stop and buy fish there before the dam,” and “I heard stories of that failed hatchery at Minam. A bunch of fishermen blew it up, I heard.”

And telling a group of junior high kids from Damascus that the Nez Perce ate an estimated 300 pounds of salmon per person per year put some meaning into those pictures from the “Horseshoe” at Celilo. And makes me remember that wonderful play written and scored by Thomas Morning Owl and Marv Ross about the “Ghosts of Celilo.” The railroad bridge in the play is the one shown in the 16-foot pre-dam photo of the River from above that is part of our exhibit.

In her opening talk, Bobbie Conner pointed out that the Celilo Falls are not gone, just under water. In Indian time—in seven generations—one can see them coming back, see the falls “bigger than Niagara” spilling the waters of the Big River once again.

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