Seal Rock, Oregon
Early History of Seal Rock

Very little has been documented about this unique and unspoiled landscape, but this history project - 2 years in the making - hopes to change that.


SEAL ROCK is a place where salal, huckleberry, and rhododendron grow abundantly along this coastal expanse of the Pacific Coast Highway. Fir, pine, cedar, spruce and hemlock trees appear brilliantly green in winter against dormant bracken fern, bare-limbed deciduous trees, and burned-over areas. The flowers of the rhododendron are reflected in small, brackish lakes in the hollows and water lilies poke their heads out of their beaver cultivated marshes all year long.(1)

 
Huckleberry Bushes & Salal by B. Goody

In springtime, the massed rhododendron blossoms are so striking that less showy blooms, such as heather, blue lupine and scarlet paintbrush are often overlooked. Sand grasses, as well as the yellow sand verbena (whose roots were eaten by local Indians), carpet the ground.(1)

 
Fox Creek Pond and Natural Marsh by B. Goody

The community of SEAL Rock was originally known as Seal Illahe. The word 'Illahe' signifies earth or stone in a long ago language of local natives, the Alsi Indians, who once flourished here. These were believed to be descendants of the Paleo-Indians who were thought to have crossed the land bridge from Siberia into Alaska during the last ice age. It is estimated that the Alsi may have reached the Oregon coast as far back as 8,000 years ago.(2)

 
Forest Trail and Great Heron by B. Goody

The Alsi referred to themselves as the "Wusitslum", which meant they were people who inhabited the lands along the central coast. There is evidence they lived in the areas from Beaver Creek (near Ona Beach) down to Cape Perpetua (near Yachats) to the south and at some locations near inland hills. Their villages were separated into societal homesteads for seasonal uses. This was perhaps a precursory notion of having a "summer home" at the coast, but it was done out of survival and the need to follow resources available at different times of the year.(2)


Salmonberry by B. Goody
During spring they lived in shellfish camps where they collected sea mammals, birds and shellfish for food. In summer, they would use hunting camps in the hilly areas inland form the coastal shores to hunt for elk, deer and other fur-bearing animals and to gather nutritious and plentiful plants, roots and berries. Autumn meant a return to the coastal and river areas where the salmon began their annual run, becoming the staple of the Alsi diet. Fishing camps were set up which allowed them to hunt using spears, nets and woven baskets to bring in the salmon. During winter, the Alsi returned to their plank-house villages to feast on smoked food they had preserved for the lean months while awaiting the return of spring.(2)


Native Woven Baskets
Woven baskets, such as those pictures here were used to collect plant leaves from the Douglas Fir, Wild Blackberry, Yerba Buena, Pipisswea, Labrador Tea and 'Wild Lettuce', which were then dried and used for teas.(2)

There were generally three tribes that inhabited this area of the central Oregon coast. Many tribes held their own slaves. "Though generally at odds with each other, there were times when, feuds laid aside, the hunting tribes visited their neighbors by the ocean in peace, bringing with them the spoils of the chase to exchange for the sea fish and shell fish of the Alsi. Then, fires were lighted and feasting and jollity went on day after day together."(2)

There were also the 'Klickitats' who hunted in the woods and over the mountains to the south; and the 'Drift Creek Indians' whose homes were scattered through the heavy timber 'round Table Mountain and on the streams leading thereabouts, to the east and northeast of Alsea. The 'Alsi' inhabited the areas by what is now called 'Alsea Bay' and they hunted on the coast and were considered a people of fishers.

The rock formations that still stand to green visitors at SEAL ROCK viewpoint were, at that time, a breeding ground for the Stellar Seal and sea lion colonies and a place for the Alsi to hunt for food.(3) They were coastal and riverine people, wealthy in dentalia shells; they hunted seals for the meat and wore robes made of seal skin.


Mussels, Barnacles and More by B. Goody
NATIVE VILLAGES

Chiink, Kauhuk, Khlimkwaish, Kwamk, Kwulisit, Panit, Skhakhwaiyutslu, Thlekuhweyuk and Thlekushauk were located on the south side of the Alsea River, with Kalbusht on the lower course.

Kakhtshanwaish, Shiuwauk, Tachuwit, Khlokhwaiyutslu were on the north side of the Alsea along with Kaukhwan, near South Beaver Creek while Kutauwa, Kyamaisu and Khlokhwaiyutslu graced the mouth of the Alsea Bay.

Alsi villages along the coastal area from Ona Beach to the north end of the Alsea Bay included Kaukhwan (Kau'gwan) at Beaver Creek, Khlokhwaiyutslu - meaning 'deep lake', and Tachuwit (Ta'teu-wit) on the north side of the Alsea River.(4)

Some local oral history places an Indian trade store down Marsh Street, located just north of the natural marsh (created by resident beavers). Today, this natural area, just 2 miles south of the village of SEAL ROCK, still flourishes with an abundance of birds, fish and other wildlife.

NATIVE POPULATION

Because of their coastal location, the Alsi came into contact with white trading vessels in the late 18th century; in 1780 the Alsi perhaps numbered between 3,000 and 5,000. The numbers of Indians belonging to the Yakonan (also "Econne" or "Yaquina") stock were estimated at 6,000.

The usual reductions followed due to the introduction of small pox. tuberculosis and other foreign diseases, which were hastened by the activities of Britain's Hudson's Bay Company personnel, the influx of white settlers and miners.

Their numbers dwindled to nearly half in 1806 with a count of 1,700 Alsi. This number may have been further reduced during the Rogue Wars around 1855. In 1875, nearly 70 years had passed and the Alsi population had only increased by 100. In 1866, the remnants of these tribes were forced to move to the northern portion of the reservation near Tillamook and by 1875, on that part known as the Southern or Alsi Reservation was opened up to white settlement. By 1894, the remainder of the reservation that once stretched from near Cape Foulweather to the Umpqua River was opened for settlement as well.

In 1910, a census reported only 29 Alsi, 19 Yakonan (Yaquina) and 7 Suislaw. By 1930, 9 Kuitsh and Yakonan and by this time, the Alsi's native langauge had already become extinct.

Those who remained were integrated into the so-called 'Confederated Siletz Indians of Oregon' (5) and by 1961, only 12 Alsi remained. Because of this, the many tribes were forced to use Chinook jargon or English to communicate with each other and many of their native languages were lost.

Today, the larger seal colonies have moved from the SEAL ROCK viewpoint to other areas nearby, which have more suitable habitats. What remains is the spectacular viewing area that graces the southern edge of Seal Rock's small village. A large windswept cluster of trees greets you like a wave crashing over the road crowning a long swath of sand guarded by basalt rock outcroppings (the most common on Earth's surface); evidence of a volcanic past that precedes even the native peoples.

Continue your history lesson into the 1800's.


Credits and Contributions:

1) http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/exhibits/coast/yaquina.htm. - Retrieved on 12.16.07
2) David D. Fagan's History of Benton County
3) http://ftp.wi.net/~census/lesson19.html - Retrieved on 11.27.2007
4) From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories http://www.manataka.org/page666.html - Retrieved on 2.19.08
5) http://logos.uoregon.edu/explore/oregon/alsea.html (Johnson, p. 176) - Retrieved on 2.19.08
6) http://www.articlearchives.com/travel-hospitality-tourism/destinations-attractions/77684-1.html
B&W Photos courtesy of Lincoln County and Waldport Historical Societies
Remaining content (c) B. Goody 2007-2009 - All Rights Reserved


Our special thanks to the Lincoln County and Waldport Historical Societies
for their contributions of photographs and information.


All Photographs are copyrighted and remain the property of the original named photographer with all rights reserved. Using any of these photographs without express permission by the owner is considered copyright infringement.

If you would like to contribute photos or information to the SEAL ROCK HISTORY project,
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Seal Rock, Oregon