Several Indian groups occupied the study area in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The southern Molola, about whom we know little, occupied the mountainous regions of the Cascades to the east. The Takelma resided in a territory that centered on the upper Rogue River drainage and extended east up Little Butte Creek to the crest of the Cascades. To the south, they inhabited portions of the Bear Creek Valley, sharing it with the Shasta. To the west, the Applegate River Valley and Galice Creek marked the boundaries with their Athapascan neighbors, the Dakubetede, the Taltuctuntede, and the Shasta Costa band of Tututni. Further west, along the coast, several other Athapascan groups centered on the principal rivers of the coastal plain, including the Upper Coquille, Kwatami, Tututni, Chetco, and Tolowa. Umpqua Indians occupied the Cow Creek drainage, inland and north of the Rogue River Valley. All of these groups shared a roughly similar environment and a common way of life centered on hunting, fishing, and gathering. Varying availability of resources such as marine fisheries and proximity to anadromous fish runs resulted in slightly different subsistence and settlement patterns.
The Takelma of the upper Rogue River are perhaps the best documented Native group of the region due to anthropologist Edward Sapir’s work early in the twentieth century. The Takelma, as defined by language dialect, comprised two, and possibly three distinct groups. The principal villages of the Lowland Takelma centered along the Rogue River extending from the present-day town of Gold Hill downriver to about Grave Creek. The Upland Takelma winter village home territory lay further upriver in the lower Bear Creek Valley near Table Rock (near Medford), as far east as Ashland, and in the Little Butte Creek drainage.
The Takelma augmented their staple vegetal foods of acorns and camas with a variety of root crops, manzanita berries, pine nuts, tarweed seeds, wild plums, and sunflowers. They found protein in anadromous fish—especially salmon—deer, and elk, as well as in rabbits, squirrels, and certain insects. The Takelma fished for salmon during the seasonal spawning runs that occurred at various times throughout the year, although not every fish-bearing stream had runs of fish every season.
The Takelma located their permanent winter villages in the region’s low elevation river valleys near predictable major food resources such as reliable fishing locations and acorn groves. During the warmer months they moved to seasonal base camps in the surrounding uplands to hunt, to gather ripening crops, and to procure materials for chipped-stone tools.
The Takelma’s seasonally fluctuating staple food sources and their need to gather widely scattered vegetable and animal foods in the upland areas had the effect of isolating families and communities. These periods of isolation hindered development of any strong central authority in the region. Instead, the local village community formed the principal social and political unit.
In the Takelma worldview, supernatural spirits associated with plants and animals—believed to be manifestations of primeval earthly inhabitants—determined nature’s forces and human fate. A few Takelma myths concerning the activities of these supernatural beings have survived, relayed by older Native informants to early twentieth-century ethnographers. People taught their children through stories how to survive in nature. Tales of Coyote, Beaver, and Acorn Woman taught people how to protect deer herds from over-hunting and about drought, famine, and floods. In the story of Rainmaker, for example, “A stout man named Khu-khu-w came…to Table Rock and the Rogue River was low and the Table Rock Indians could not catch salmon. The Table Rock Indians hired that man to make rain, and it flooded all this lowland.”
© Kay Atwood & Dennis J. Gray, 2003