Lucy Dick was last of the Chetcos
March 06, 2001 11:00 pm
Lucy Dick
Lucy Dick

After the Oregon Indian wars of the mid-1850s, all surviving members of the Chetco tribe and others were rounded up and placed on reservations. They were the remnants of almost all the native peoples of Western Oregon.

Joel V. Berreman, a young anthropology student who published a 1944 monograph titled Chetco Archeology, notes that at least eight separate language families were represented, along with many more dialects, and that the cultural diversity of the groups must have been great.

No single band was large enough to form an effective nucleus for the maintenance of a single culture or language. Constant contacts between them required a common system of communication, which was at first found in the Chinook jargon and later in English. The survival of anything like the original and distinct local variations in culture seems well nigh impossible under these circumstances. It was, perhaps, these conditions which produced the rapid deterioration of all native culture so that the Indian Service classed them in 1871 as the most advanced of the reservation groups; that is, in the loss of native traits and in the adoption of the white man's language and culture.

One of the Chetco Indians moved to the Siletz reservation was a young girl, later named Lucy Dick. Her Indian name is not now known. One of her great granddaughters, Jeannette Giddings of Harbor, has written an account of her life. In part, it is this:

Lucy was born between the years of 1841 and 1847 in a Chetco village on the north side of the Chetco River, overlooking the river mouth. She was the daughter of the head chief (Tyee) of the Chetco Indian tribe.

Lucy knew her people as they had lived in their natural culture, before the coming of the white men. She saw the life of the Indians change. They had lived in the vicinity for 100 years, and in that time she saw the desolation of the Indian War with the white settlers, and soldiers of the U.S. Army. She was yet a little girl when her life was abruptly changed.

Soldiers were sent to re-inforce the settler, and finally defeated the Indians. Then, under the supervision of soldiers, the Chetcos began their march to the Siletz Reservation. This was a long, cruel journey.

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, starting with the white people who gave her the name of Lucy. Remembering that she much look ahead, not back, she left her past and her Indian name behind, and this name is now forgotten.

Lucy met Chetco 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, and the writer quoted here. Lucy Dick was much respected in the Chetco area, helping many people who were sick and assisting at the births of numerous children, including the younger brothers of Mike Page, a longtime Boy Scout leader in

Bookings. Lucy died in 1940, and was buried in the Old Pioneer Cemetery in Harbor. Her obituary appears in the Curry County Reporter on Jan. 18:

One of the best known and respected residents of the Harbor district, she died at the home of her grandson, John Chelsey (Pat) Van Pelt. Funeral services were held at the Van Pelt cemetery south of Harbor with many relatives and friends present.

Lucy Dick was said to be the last full-blooded Indian in the county. She was born at the Indian settlement at the mouth of the Chetco River between the years 1841 and 1847. In 1856 she was taken to Siletz with the rest of the tribe after the Indian war. There she married Richard Dick and they moved to Harbor in 1870. She has made her home in the county since that time.

She was survived by three grandchildren, several great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

The week after her death the Oregonian newspaper ran a sentimental and somewhat inaccurate editorial about her:

The last of the full-blood Chetco Indians, an aged woman whose years are not definitely known, died at the Curry County town of Harbor a few days ago. Her name was Lucky Dick. She was a small girl when the settlers came, a long, long lifetime ago, and she saw them possess that which had belonged to her people. Tucked away in every little coastal valley, where a river ran into the ocean, invariably there was a native tribe.

Her people were the Chetco, one of the smallest of tribes and now they are gone. With her death they are disposed even of memory and tradition. Was it prophetic and unconscious irony to name her Lucky?

The town of Harbor once was called Chetco, after the tribal name, as the splendid river still is called. But the name of the development corporation, as Lewis A. McArthur tells in his Oregon Geographic Names, was the Chetco Harbor Land and Townsite Company, and the old place name that commemorated a vanishing people was abandoned as out of harmony with the enterprise. Mr. McArthur dryly intimates that in his opinion this was a mistake. However that many have been, the last of the Chetco died in the town called Harbor, that might have been called after her people.

A monument will now be erected at her grave, attesting that there are no more to follow.

Romanticism ran rampant in that piece, well-intentioned as it was. Lucy Dick was never called "Lucky," and no member of her family now living ever heard her called that. There is no monument or marker on her grave.

Lucy Dick was the last of the pure-gened Chetco Indians to live in this community. No one here today speaks the Chetco language. Their native culture has deteriorated. But the loss of their native traits and the adoption of the white man's language in their culture has not stilled their skills. Even in 1871, the Indian Service ranked them as the most advanced of the class of groups on the reservation.

Indian Skills Today

Today Brookings-Harbor School District 17-C enrolls many students claiming some Indian ancestry. School officials have secured grants under the Title IX Federal Indian Education Program making it possible for them to study their history. The program is open to all students who are part Native American and approximately 229 students were involved in studies during the year 2000. The Native American Parent Committee determines how the group is going to guide the academic studies.

Tutors guide students, from kindergarten through the fourth grade, who are behind in their academic studies. Older students give cultural presentations to Kalmiopsis Primary School students that include drumming and dancing, making fry bread and designing traditional Indian crafts. Young people, in grades five through 12, go on field trips of cultural significance and attend an American Indian week-long summer camp at Lobster Creek near Gold Beach, Oregon.

The descendants of the Chetcos are aware of their Indian heritage and seek to perpetuate the memory of their tribal history and culture.

All of them are proud that some of their forebears were the first people here.