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Amanda Trail Recognizes Displacement And Suffering Of First Nations During Pioneer-Era

Brian Bull

Oregon’s history with the First Nations remains an often overlooked part of the state’s checkered legacy. But more and more, Native Americans and their supporters are highlighting aspects of Oregon’s pioneer era that may not jibe with tourist signs and old school textbooks. One story is that of Amanda Du-Cuys. U.S. soldiers put the Coos Indian and others on a forced march up the coastline in the 1860s.  KLCC’s Brian Bull reports on how her story is being shared today.

BULL: “I’m outside of Yachats, walking along the coastline on some very craggy rock.  Glad that I got my sneakers on, and am pretty spry still…I can’t imagine what this would’ve been like for Amanda, a Native American woman put on a forced relocation for 80 miles, on this kind of terrain…who was also not only elderly but practically blind.”

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
The Yachats coastline as it appears today. Amanda Du-Cuys and countless other Native Americans were often made to traverse the sharp and craggy rocks without shoes, a measure intended to keep them from escaping soldiers while marching towards the Alsea Sub-Agency.

“She represents a very important historical truth. Genocide was committed here in Yachats,” says Joanne Kittel, a retired trauma counselor and Yachats resident.

For over 30 years Kittel's written about Amanda Du-Cuys and the forced marches and prison camps that the U.S. government operated in the pioneer era. An 1855 treaty had Coos, Lower Umpqua, Alsea, and Siuslaw Indians relocated to reservations, meaning Amanda’s suffering wasn’t unique.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Joanne Kittel, a retired trauma counselor and Yachats resident who has donated her land towards the Amanda Trail. She has worked to share the Amanda Du-Cuys story with locals and hikers for more than 30 years.

“There were many ‘Trails of Tears’," continues Kittel.  "The Siletz and Grande Ronde, they were shipped out then marched from the Columbia River.  50 percent died.

"And the Coos, Lower Umpqua, they kept them on a spit. By Fort Umpqua, to the south. It was overcrowded.”

For many rounded-up and displaced Indians, their destination was the Alsea Sub-Agency in Yachats. Forced marches began in 1860. 

When Amanda DuCuys was forcibly taken from her daughter Julia and marched towards Yachats in 1864, her plight was noted by a soldier, Royal Bensell. He wrote of her feet being torn horribly by the coastal rocks, quote – “leaving blood sufficient to track her by.”

“And there was massacres, all the men would be lined up and shot if individuals slipped off into the brush at opportunities,” says Robert Kentta.  He's the Siletz Tribe’s Cultural Resources Director.

Kentta says often, harsh elements of history exist in narratives that are obscure, and tough to track down.

“Employees of the reservation, their journals sometimes get handed down through the families, and end up with the historical society," he explains. "And trying to match up our oral histories with the written record, is sometimes a little bit of a challenge.

"There was things done under the auspices of the Indian Department and the U.S. Army that they didn’t care to document very well, either.”

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Robert Kentta, Cultural Resources Director for the Siletz Tribe. He stands with maps and artifacts that are part of the tribe's collection.

In 1996, Kentta supervised Joanne Kittel and her friend, Suzanne Curtis, on an article detailing the prison camps. One fact: since the 1855 Treaty wasn’t ratified, promised supplies never arrived.

The research has given people a more accurate view of that era, compared to old historical signage that depicted the Alsea Sub-Agency as “idyllic”.

The Amanda Trail was opened in 2009. It extends from the top of Cape Perpetua down into Yachats.

Woman: "Very steep incline back that way.”

Kittel: (Laughs) Oh, I’m familiar with it, I built the trail!”

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Benjamin and Jen Adler (left) learn about Amanda Du-Cuy and what's called the "Oregon Trail of Tears" by Joanne Kittel, who helped get the trail built.

Joanne Kittel greets hikers, including Benjamin and Jen Adler, from Corvallis. They gaze at a statue depicting Amanda, in a shaded cove. She stands serene and stately, covered in necklaces, sea shells, and other gifts visitors have left behind in her memory.

Benjamin: "We’ve been hiking for the last three days on the Oregon Coast Trail.”

Jen: "We feel really honored to find someplace that seems so peaceful.  Just amazed with the different treasures that people have left to honor her.”

And Amanda’s story lives on, in another form…

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Ashley Stovin (left) and her daughter, Riley (center) listen to director Rod Cebellos as they rehearse a scene from Amanda Transcending. The play dramatizes the life of Amanda De-Cuys, a Coos woman who is eventually disowned by her common-law marriage husband, forced to abandon her child, and put on a grueling march towards what is now known as Yachats. It's unknown what became of her after her arrival at the Alsea Sub-Agency.

Amanda: "Wait, let me see my Julia!"

Julia: "Mama, what's happening?"

A.P. Du-Cuys: "Say goodbye, Julia."

Julia: "Mama, please don't go!"

Amanda: "Remember me, little one..."

Rehearsals are underway for the play, “Amanda Transcending.” The group, Theater 33, is performing it next month at Willamette University in Salem. 

Playwright Connie Bennett says the project has allowed her to face what she calls the “blinders of white privilege”, instead looking under the floorboards of history. She still struggles with the tragic events that affected Amanda.

“I wanted the soldier to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong.’  But that’s looking at a historical story with modern eyes and modern sensibility.  At least the “modern” was – when I was first writing four years ago. 

"Nowadays, ripping parents and children apart seems a little more common.”

It’s estimated that 300 Native Americans died at the Alsea Sub-Agency in a ten-year period, and that likely includes Amanda. No further mention is made of her after the agency’s roll call.

Doc Slyter, of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Tribe says even fellow Indians ask him why he keeps sharing the story of Amanda’s ordeal.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Doc Slyter, an elder and council member for the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Tribe. He says the community of Yachats "has heart" for helping support the creation of the Amanda Trail and learning of First Nation's struggles in the pioneer era.

“Sad story, y’know, but if we don’t tell those stories to the people that were never part of that, it’s gonna happen again. Each tribe has got their own story.”

With last year’s passage of Senate Bill 13 in the Oregon legislature, these stories may become part of school curriculums.  Supporters of the “Tribal History, Shared History”, initiative hope non-Indians take the time to open their minds and hearts to this emerging history…to help heal old wounds while preventing new ones.

Note: Funding for KLCC’s “Borders, Migration, and Belonging” series provided by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.

Copyright 2018, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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