Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Childhood Memories of Fishing at Celilo Falls

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Childhood Memories of Fishing at Celilo Falls

Article excerpt

MY LIFE HAS BEEN FILLED with pleasant memories of hunting and fishing with my father and brothers, which I can first remember doing as a boy of four or five years of age. All my brothers are older than I am--Albert, Alex, Jr., Alfred, and Alvin; I am the youngest, born January 24,1938. We have lost our oldest brother Albert, who fished at Celilo for many years prior to the inundation. Our grandfather Johnny Pinkham and father Alex Pinkham also fished there. The family was blessed with four sisters--Audrey, Priscilla, Loretta, and Bernadine. We have lost three, and Loretta is our remaining sister. Our mother was Annette Blackeagle Pinkham.

My father would at times tell me and my brothers of the olden times and ways of our people. He would say things that didn't make sense to me as a young boy but that I came to understand as very important lessons later in life. He would say, "Don't be afraid if you see or feel something you don't understand. You may see what you think is a ghost but is not. You hear a noise and nothing is there. A figure or person appears then is gone." He said, "These are messengers that carry something for you, you may not realize it until later. So don't be afraid."

This is what happened to me as a young boy of about ten years of age in 1948, on the Clearwater River at a place called Cewekte (pronounced as a week tah), my mother's home place. It was well past midnight in June, when summer thunderstorms could occur suddenly. I suddenly awoke to a roaring and thunderous sound and quickly sat upright in my bed. I thought it was thunder and lightning, but it wasn't. The sound soon quit, and there was only silence. I looked out the window. It was dark and silent outside. Even the house was silent and no one moved about. There was no rain or thunder at all, and everyone was sleeping. I thought there was no reason to be afraid, and I went back to sleep. It was later that I came to understand what this sound and silence meant. As I grew up, I would become very accustomed to the sounds of the falls and the sounds of life as the people caught, cooked, and cured the eels and salmon at Celilo.

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During 1949, my brother Alvin and I moved with our father to the Yakama Indian Reservation to start a new life there with our stepmother Elsie Cree. Alvin and I had chosen to be with our father after our parents' divorce. But after a year or two, Alvin went back to Cewekte on the Clearwater River to be with our older sister Audrey. I remained with Elsie and my new stepbrothers and stepsisters on the Yakama reservation, much closer to Celilo Falls. We always had pleasant and happy times camping in the mountains and going to Celilo for salmon and eels.

During the early 1950s, we moved each summer to Celilo Village and camped with my uncle Joe Pinkham and his wife Ida. Uncle Joe also had a large family and children nearly the same age as we were. I paired up with my brother-cousin Wally (Irvin) Pinkham. We went most places together at Celilo. We would go to the islands on cable cars that the fish buyers had set up to buy fish from fishermen working there. We would watch salmon being caught by the dozens as the men fished. This, of course, was when the salmon and steelhead were running at the peak of the season. The air at the falls above Chinook Rock would be filled with three or four salmon jumping at the same time. The Salmon people were gathering to offer themselves to their relatives, the human beings. The men at Chinook Rock would be catching a salmon at nearly every dip of their nets. The men at the hanging scaffolds just below the falls would be catching two or three fish at a time when the fish ran heavy. The men with set nets at Seufert's channel would be catching salmon swept back by the currents every few minutes.

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Miyo'xot Island (also known as Chiefs Island) was also busy with people working set, dip, and roping dipnets. …

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