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.”
“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.
“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.”
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!”
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…
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.
“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.