Roberta Conner recounts stories told to her by her relative Nettie Showaway. This excerpt goes over Nette’s experience at Celilo, in the Dalles, at boarding school, and Nettie’s birth in Simnasho.
RC: And they used to, in The Dalles, the grand Dalles in Dallesport and The Dalles, they used to treat all the Indians like they were dirty. And they treated them badly. And they treated them badly because they all smelled like fish. I mean they were working in the fishery hands on all day long, everyday. And she and her mother Nellie and her sisters would be given the job of taking big gunny sacks, not small gunny sacks, big gunny sacks, and they would go the cannery, the Seufert cannery, where there were these big ravines where they butchered the fish. I think a conveyor would come out and drop the fish heads that they chopped off–just went really efficiently, chopped off–and the fish heads would roll down this ditch 58:54. They, with other Indian women would go down with burlap bags and put all these fish heads in a bag ’cause that’s one of the very best parts of the fish, it’s a delicacy.
And they’d bring these bags home and they’d harvest the fish cheeks, um which is really good. The elders, old people who have no teeth, really love to eat the fish cheeks. The fish eyes. And they would make fish head soup. And they would…what white men were throwing away, tails and heads, they would bring home in these big bags. And she said ‘of course we smelled like fish. It was hard work. People treated us bad because we worked with fish.’ And she talked about Celilo about how there were, there was, she talked about a Chinese restaurant where they welcomed Indians. Where she and her husband Albie Showaway would go, where they were good to Indians. They wouldn’t treat them like the white restaurant owners did. And she–and my grandmother–both talked about restaurants and establishments in The Dalles, that had signs that said ‘no dogs, no Indians’.
And Nettie would talk about mostly though her fond memories of being on the river with all the other people there. And she was quite a flirt in her younger years. And tall, very tall woman. And she loved going where there was gambling and dancing and racing and having weddings and having feasts and it was this huge, huge amount of commotion. It was like going to Portland today for people who come from the country.
RC: It was just everything was going on there. And how much not…wealth…but how much richness there was there. The smell of the fish on the open fires, the stick games going on all night. The Sunday worship, with fresh salmon. And how, before the dam, how vivid her stories about Celilo were. Vivid stories, with the smells and things she missed about the place when it was alive. When it wasn’t so much a ghost town. Before the river changed. Before the dam went in.
61:36: And she talked about her younger years, before that. In the early nineteen teens when her father was a Chief. And so Chiefs had big responsibilities. If they had a funeral or a feast or a gathering or a wedding or anything big in their family or in their band they had to feed everybody who came. And so she and her sisters and her brothers, they had to hunt and fish and dig and pick for lots of people. They worked hard all the time. That’s why she loved boarding school. ‘Cause it wasn’t as hard work as staying home. And when–at least at Chemawa. And when she was a youngster, a girl, she and her grandmother and her three sisters–well her older sister May and her sister Matilda and her mother and her grandmother would make smoked buckskin gloves. They’d you know, hunt in the fall, tan hides and they’d make smoked buckskin gloves all winter. And when they needed supplies that’s what they’d trade for so when the weather got good enough to travel by wagon they’d go around that area to Maupin and Nancene and Dufur and all those places. And they’d go to the dry goods places to trade smoked buckskin gloves for coffee, sugar, flour, lard. And they went and the man at Wapinita already had enough gloves, he didn’t need any gloves. And they went to Nancene and he already had all the gloves he needed. He didn’t need anymore Indian gloves. And they went to Maupin and he didn’t need gloves. And finally they got to Dufur and that man said he would give them 50 dollars in dry goods for a 100 pairs of gloves. That’s 50 cents a pair for handmade smoked buckskins gloves, at the time. And it was not a good deal. But it was the best deal they could get that day, because they went by wagon to all those places to sell those gloves to get supplies.
And so, they lived hard times. She was born in Warm Springs, but they lived–so south of the Columbia River you go from The Dalles to Tygh Ridge then into Tygh Valley. And you make your way, or you can go the other way from Rufus, but you make your way Simnasho either way. Well Simnasho’s south of the river a good distance, but Simnasho is about twenty miles from Warm Springs, I don’t know by horseback. Yeah it’s lots of rock. Lots of rock, mountain territory to get from Simnasho to Warm Springs. And her mother went to the Warm Springs store in full-term pregnancy, on horseback, to get kerosene and something else, I can’t remember what. And she went into labor in the store and the woman who was the wife of the man who owned the store took her next door to the house, she had the baby, Nettie–and she hated her name, Nettie–had the baby and they wrapped her in a old dress and her mother rode home with the baby. And the kerosene, back to Simnasho.