Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Tillamook Indians and Bayocean

The Tillamook tribe enjoyed the use of Bayocean Peninsula long before any white men. In her testimony against construction of an eco-park on Bayocean, Merilee Sommers, board member of the Cape Meares Community Association , included a 1994 letter from anthropologist/attorney J.C. Steen, which said, "Bayocean Spit is the location of at least four and perhaps five significant early Native American occupation sites." She also said historian Garry Gitzen had told her on October 10, 2014 that there were "quite a few middens in the area...evidence to their dependence on fish and shellfish for food." With the ocean on one side and the bay on the other, Bayocean would have been an ideal spot for the Tillamook

Though Tillamooks likely had contact with sailors from Spanish ships that cruised Oregon's shores as early as the 16th Century, the first recorded contact was with sailors of the Lady Washington, captained by Robert Gray during his first trip to the Pacific Coast. After a couple days of peaceful trade, the encounter ended badly, with one sailor and three tribesmen killed in a skirmish over a cutlass. Third mate Robert Haswell dubbed the location "Murderers Harbour" in his August 16, 1788 log entry, as an expression of his angst over the event. The Oregon section of Haswell's log was published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly June 1928 article "Captain Robert Grays' First Visit to Oregon." Haswell mentions passing a spit while sailing into the bay but provided no description of Bayocean Spit. 
The Octopus Tree at Cape Meares was used for ceremonies  by Tillamook Indians 
In January 1806 William Clark, and several other members of the Corps of Discovery including Sacajawea, traveled to the Tillamook village of Necost to trade for blubber and oil the tribe had harvested from a whale that washed up onshore. They set up camp for a couple days on the tidal flats of Ecola Creek, across from the village. The Tillamooks weren't willing to sell Clark much of what they'd harvested from the whale, but they did give him a description of Tillamook Bay that he used to draw a sketch that can be seen at Neahkahnie Visions. It's an interesting historical artifact, but since Clark didn't visit the area personally the map can't be taken as an accurate representation of the shape of Bayocean Spit at the time.

For more information about Tillamook history, read what living tribal members have to say at Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes, and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

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