Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness/The Nehalem Tillamook: An Ethnography

By Hart, E. Richard | Western Folklore, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness/The Nehalem Tillamook: An Ethnography


Hart, E. Richard, Western Folklore


Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness. By Omer C. Stewart. Edited by Henry T. Lewis and M. Kat Anderson. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. Pp. xii + 364, introduction, photographs, charts, bibliographies, index, $39.95 cloth); The Nehalem Tillamook: An Ethnography. By Elizabeth D. Jacobs. Edited by William R. Seaburg. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2004. Pp. xii + 260, acknowledgments, introductions, maps, photographs, illustrations, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $21.95 paper)

The success of The Nehalem Tillamook, a volume long-delayed in publication, is due both to its author, Elizabeth D. Jacobs, and to its editor, William R. Seaburg. Elizabeth Jacobs was the wife of Melville Jacobs, whose groundbreaking work with the Clackamas Chinook is well known (1936, 1958, 1959a, 1959b, 1960). Melville Jacobs also recorded extensive texts from the Kalapuya, neighbors to the Chinook (Jacobs, Gatschet, and Frachtenberg 1945). Elizabeth D. Jacobs conducted her own fieldwork on the Nehalem Tillamook in the mid-1930s, relying primarily on two Tillamook Salish consultants.

William R. Seaburg is the perfect editor for the present volume, for he has written on the Tillamook (Seaburg and Miller 1990) and he knew and consulted with Elizabeth Jacobs before her death in 1983. Seaburg is more than just a volume editor, for he provides both an overview of linguistic and ethnological work carried out on this area of coastal Oregon and a historical overview of work with the Chinook in general and the Nehalem in particular. His thoughtful analysis of Jacobs' methodology and his objective explanation of her prejudices and biases make her work ever more valuable. His deliberation and delivery evince a serious commitment to this work. This publication of Jacobs' ethnology provides important insights into Nehalem social organization, material culture and subsistence, and life cycle. Extensive selections of traditional ceremonial expressions, songs, stories, games and many other aspects of expressive culture will make the volume valuable for anyone studying the Nehalem as well as neighboring Chinookan and other tribes. Seaburg not only provides a biographical sketch of Elizabeth D. Jacobs but has taken the effort to provide biographical sketches of her consultants and of others named in texts included in the ethnology. Given the relatively small amount of fieldwork done with the Chinook in the twentieth century, this work will be a valued addition to our body of knowledge.

In the past two decades we have come to understand a little about how fire was used by Native American tribes to manage their landscapes. The works of Stephen J. Pyne, among others, have opened the door to a greater appreciation of fire used as a means of improving habitat for hunting, gathering and travel (Pyne 1982, 1995, 1997). Now we learn that half a century ago an important work on native societies' use of fire to manage natural landscapes was written but never published. Anthropologist Omer C. Stewart (1908-1991) conducted research on the subject from the early 1930s until 1954, when he completed a manuscript titled "The Effects of Burning of Grasslands and Forests by Aborigines the World Over." But he failed to find a publisher, despite trying for decades. The work is now published posthumously through the efforts of Stewart's family and former students, for which we may be thankful.

The present volume's co-editor, Henry T. Lewis, in his prefatory "Anthropological Critique," speculates that Stewart may have suffered professionally for testifying in behalf of tribes before the Indian Claims Commission-his testimony opposing that of prominent government witnesses, including Julian Steward, may have hampered his access to a publisher for conclusions regarding Indians and fire that were controversial in those days. …

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