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Discovering Chetco culture Print E-mail
Written by Bill Schlichting, Pilot staff writer   
December 02, 2009 04:00 am

Lucy Dick is shown with baskets in this painting by A.V. Talbot. Lucy was the last known full-blooded Chetco Indian and lived in the village, shown on background map, on the south bank of the Chetco River.
In the wake of plans to build a memorial to the Chetco Indians, a renewed interest in the tribe has arisen among residents in the Brookings-Harbor area.

The renewed interest was evident when people filled every available chair, as well as the benches along the walls, of the Chetco Grange Community Center Saturday afternoon. The people came to hear sisters Lynda Timeus and Karen Crump, both Chetco Descendants, share their knowledge of the small band that lived in the area before white settlers arrived.

Timeus, who did most of the talking during their hour-long question and answer session, and Crump are descendent of Lucy Dick, the last known full-blooded Chetco Indian.

The tribe, which is believed to have had no more than 1,000 members, lived in villages scattered throughout the area between the Winchuck River and Cape Ferrelo. Perhaps the largest settlement was a village, known as Chetco, with about 40 houses located on the south bank of the Chetco River. The location is shown on an 1891 map as being near today’s downstream end of the sport boat basin at the Port of Brookings Harbor. It is here that a memorial is planned.

According to articles about the tribe, the Chetco people were peaceful, engaging only in sporadic skirmishes with the Tututni tribe to the north and the Tolowa to the south. These conflicts were the result of the Chetco people being protective of their property, Timeus said.

They were hunter gatherers, and fished, harvested shellfish, picked berries and acorns, and hunted sea lions. They lived in wooden plank houses, wore clothing woven from bark and grass, and used deer-hide ponchos for warmth. It wasn’t an easy life.

Timeus shared a story of how the people ate sea anemones. It was difficult because the animals attach themselves to rocks and stuck well. Then they must be cleaned. Anemones were not the more popular of staples.

The Chetco people also ate lots of mussels and fish. Timeus and Crump shared that their ancestors could be identified by their worn teeth because of the amount of sand in the food. However, it is believed that their diet, which included much seafood, contributed to a long life span.

A long life was certainly the case for Lucy, who was born in the 1840s — the daughter of Tyee, the last Chetco chief — and died in 1940.

It was during her lifetime that the traditional lifestyle of the Chetco people came to an end during the Indian Wars of the 1850s.

Surviving members of the Chetco and other tribes were rounded up and sent to the Siletz Indian Reservation, 14 miles inland from Newport near the town of Siletz, according to Timeus and Crump. The Chetco Indians were perhaps the smallest group among those who became part of the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz.

According to a 2001 article in the Curry Coastal Pilot, Lucy’s father was killed on this journey, as well as his brother, a sub-chief, and many others.

Lucy was walking with her mother when her father was shot. When she saw him fall in the dust of the road, she turned back to him, crying, but her mother said “No. Walk on, and don’t look back.”

Upon reaching the Siletz Reservation Lucy was determined to make a new life for herself. In this she succeeded. Remembering that she must look ahead, not back, she left her past and her Indian name behind, and this name is now forgotten.

Lucy met Richard “Chetco Dick” Dick on the reservation and in time they were married, according to the custom of their people.

Lucy, her husband and their daughter, Lydia Dick, made their home on the reservation for a number of years. Then, obtaining permission from the Indian agent there, they made a trip back to their former home at Chetco. While there, Chetco Dick became ill and died. Left without a husband, and little means, Lucy remained at Chetco and never returned to live again on the reservation.

Her daughter, Lydia, married Sam Van Pelt of Chetco, according to the Indian custom. Sam was the son of one of the first white settlers in the area.

Today, only about 40 people remain who are descendants of the Chetco. When asked if there are standards to determine whether a person is a member of the Chetco Tribe, which is not federally recognized, the answer was that each tribe has its own standards. The Chetco recognize a person as part of the tribe by ancestral lineage.

It is these few people who have Chetco ancestry who are working to build a memorial. The site would include historical information about the tribe’s way of life.

As it is, most of the social locations have been lost as are many cultural ceremonies. When the people came back from the Siletz reservation, they became integrated. Many traditions were lost. Both Timeus and Crump agree that this is why building a memorial is important.

The two women also shared that a book is in the works. The goal is to share the history of the area that includes details about the Chetco people.

Following the presentation by Timeus and Crump, the audience was treated to refreshments and invited to view photos of Lucy Dick, maps showing the locations of the Chetco villages and portions of written history. Guests could also view Tolowa artifacts, including ceremonial clothing and jewelry.

After the break, the Tolowa Indians from Del Norte County, Calif., shared a computerized slide show presentation about that tribe.

The Tolowa people lived in the area from south of Crescent City to just a few miles south of the Winchuck River. The Tolowa also had many villages; the three largest were located in the area of Crescent City, on the south side of the channel between lakes Earl and Tolowa, and near the Smith River mouth.

The program was organized by Jo Mochulski and Sharon Huff, members of the  Chetco Grange Activities Committee.

 

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