When the River Ran Wild!
Indian Traditions on the Mid-Columbia and the Warm Springs ReservationBook - 2005
"Nearly seventy-five years of my lifetime have come and gone since hearing of the sparse historical events from the old-timers," American Indian elder George Aguilar tells us. "It's my turn now." When the River Ran Wild! is Aguilar's recounting of events he heard about while watching his grandmother make moccasins by the light of a coal-oil lamp and while strapped to the back of his aunt's horse on the way to the huckleberry grounds. He learned them at Coyote's Fishing Place, where his uncles built scaffolds and taught him how to use traditional technologies to catch salmon as they made their seasonal runs up the river.
In this remarkable personal memoir and tribal history, we learn about Aguilar's people, the Kiksht-speaking Eastern Chinookans, who lived and worked for centuries connected to the rhythms and resources of the great fishing grounds of the Columbia River at Five Mile Rapids.
When the River Ran Wild! is the story of a culture and a community that has undergone tremendous change since 1805, when the River People encountered Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they traveled down the Columbia River on their way to the Pacific Ocean. To find the stories of that change, Aguilar draws on the journals and diaries of early White missionaries and settlers, such as Gabriel Franchere, Rev. Henry Perkins of Wascopum Mission, and A. B. Meacham. He found other stories in anthropological papers and historical studies that recorded the voices of people who practiced and remembered ceremonies and traditions that were lost or changed during the difficult years of removal to the Warm Springs Reservation in north-central Oregon. He heard yet others from tribal elders who have kept the history and stories of the River People in their memories.
When the River Ran Wild! is the history of names and naming, of deep family connections, and of traditional customs. It is a descriptive catalogue of the plants the River People used for sustenance and medical purposes, and it is a detailed guide on how to pack out an elk and how to tan a hide. Aguilar retells the stories and myths of the river, the stories that "are now infrequent and told from books in the English language," the stories whose "body language, animal mimicry, and facial expressions are gone."
Aguilar has written this book to help us know what the River People have lost on the Columbia River over the decades, but he also gives testimony to what has been conserved and enlivened by a people who love the land and who honor tradition and those who came before. He takes us, perhaps better than anyone else can, back to a time when the river ran wild.