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Impearls: HIC 1.4: Towns

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Towns   by A. L. Kroeber

Fig. 1: Yurok towns and territory.

Figure 1 – Yurok towns and territory. 1
Solid squares indicate sites occupied only during certain periods.
[Circles indicate modern communities.  Adapted from Kroeber's Figure 1.]
 

The territory of the Yurok, small as is its extent, is very unrepresentative of their actual life, since all of their habitations stood either on the Klamath River or on the shore of the ocean.  All land back in the hills away from their houses served only for hunting deer, picking up acorns, beating in seeds, and gathering firewood or sweathouse kindlings, according to its vegetation.  The most productive tracts were owned privately.  They were occasionally camped on, though never for long periods.  All true settlements formed only a long winding lane; and along this waterway Yurok life was lived.

The towns — hamlets is an exacter term according to civilized standard — numbered about 54 and are shown in Figure 1.  A few of these, such as Kenekpul, Tsetskwi, Himetl, Keihkem, Nagetl, Tlemekwetl, and some on the coast, may have been inhabited only from time to time, during the lifetime of a single man or a group of relatives.  The Klamath villages mostly lie on ancient river terraces, which gradually decrease in height toward the mouth of the widening stream.  Wahsekw is 200 feet up, Kenek 100, Kepel 75, Ko'otep 35, Turip 25, Wohkel 20.  The coast towns are almost invariably either on a lagoon or at the mouth of a stream.  Tsurau alone overlooks a cove well sheltered behind Trinidad Head.  Like the more wholly ocean-situated Wiyot and Tolowa, the Yurok did not hesitate to paddle out into open salt water for miles, if there was occasion; but their habits were formed on the river or still water.  The canoe was designed for stream use rather than launching through the surf; and the coast itself was designated as downstream and upstream according as it extended north or south.  Fishing was done at mouths of running fresh water, or by men standing at the edge of the surf, much more than on the abounding ocean.

The important villages come in groups.  The uppermost of these groups is at the mouth of the Trinity: Weitspus, Pekwututl, and Ertlerger.  These must have had, a century ago, a combined population of nearly 200.  Wahsekw, next below, was isolated and not very large, but wealthy.  Those that followed next were of little moment.  Kenek, which lies at the best fishing rapids in the Klamath, except possibly the fall near the mouth of the Salmon River in Karok territory, is the town most frequently mentioned in Yurok mythology, and is celebrated even in the traditions of their neighbors, but was always a small settlement in historical times.  Kepel, Sa'a, Murekw, and Himetl formed another considerable group of about the populousness of that at Weitspus.  Murekw seems to have been the largest of the group, Sa'a its religious center.  Several smaller settlements followed at short intervals, among which Sregon enjoyed a reputation for belligerence and wealth.  Pekwan Creek brought Pekwan, Ko'otep, Wohtek, and Wohkero.  This was perhaps the most populous cluster of Yurok villages.  For the next 20 miles the towns were strung apart and mostly quite small: Turip and Sa'aitl, also called Turip-opposite, formed the only larger group.  Then, at the mouth, on opposite sides of the tidal lagoon, came Rekwoi and Wetlkwau, with Tsekwetl, Pegwolau, and Keskitsa as quarters or suburbs, and Tmeri and Otwego somewhat doubtful as separate villages.  Here also the population must have approximated 200.

On the coast, Tsurau at Trinidad, several miles from its neighbors, was estimated the largest town; Opyuweg on Big Lagoon — also called simply Oketo, “lake” — was next; and Tsahpekw on Stone Lagoon third.  Four smaller townlets stood with Opyuweg on Big Lagoon, and Tsahpekw had Hergwer as a minor mate.  Of the other coast towns, Orekw at the mouth of Redwood Creek was the leading one, with Espau probably next.

Otsepor was really two settlements: Otsepor, and Aikoo downstream.  Ehkwiyer below Tsetskwi, Tekta below Wohkero, Enipeu below Serper, Stowin below Tlemekwetl have been occupied recently, but do not seem to be old sites.  Tlemekwetl is also known as Erlikenpets, Hergwer as Plepei, Metskwo as Srepor.  Terwer was an important summer camp site on the north bank between Sa'aitl and Wohkel, but appears to have had no permanent houses.  O'menhipur included houses on both sides of the mouth of Wilson Creek.  Neryitmurm and Pinpa are sometimes spoken of as towns, but may be only parts of Opyuweg.

The great fixed ceremonies were all held at the populous clusters: Weitspus, Kepel-Sa'a, Pekwan, Rekwoi, Wetlkwau, Orekw, Opyuweg.  Each of these had a sacred sweat house; and at each of them, and at them only, a White Deerskin or Jumping dance was made or begun.  Sa'a alone replaced the dance with a ritually built fish weir at adjacent Kepel.  It will be seen that ceremony followed population, as myth did not.  Besides Kenek, little Merip, Tlemekwetl, Turip, and Shumig — the uninhabited bluff behind Patricks Point — enter prominently into tradition.



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