Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
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Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.

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Impearls: HIC 2.19: War

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

War   by A. L. Kroeber

No distinction of principle existed in the native mind between murder and war.  It is rather clear that all so-called wars were only feuds that happened to involve large groups of kinsmen, several such groups, or unrelated townsmen of the original participants.  Whoever was not drawn into a war was as careful to remain neutral as in a private quarrel.  When settlement came it was made on the sole basis known: all damage was compensated.  Every man slain or hurt was paid for according to his value, all captive women and children restored, burned houses were paid for, seized property handed back.  It seems that actual payments for the aggregate amounts due were made by each side instead of the lesser value being deducted from the greater and the net difference alone paid.  This practice was perhaps necessitated by the fact that Yurok money with all its refinement of measurement was not really standardized in the same sense as our own, no two strings, generally speaking, being of exactly the same value.  In any event the greater financial drain bore on the winner.  There is no group of tribes in California better developed to enjoy tribute than the Yurok and their neighbors, and none to whom the idea was so utterly foreign.  The vae victis of civilization might well have been replaced among the Yurok, in a monetary sense at least, by the dictum:  “Woe to the victors.”

When blood money was offered, the exact length of each string was shown by a rod of the precise dimension.  This stick was kept by the payee, and subsequently measured against the row of dentalia.  To the ends of the rod were lashed little tabs of buckskin, to make possible its being held between the fingers that clasped the string of shells.  This device enabled the precise value of each string to be determined during the period when contact between the principals in conflict, or even handling of the property of one by the other, would have been precarious.

The Yurok took no scalps.  They did not trouble to decapitate a fallen foe unless it was to make sure of his death.  They held no scalp dance or formal victory celebration.  They did have a war dance known as the wertlkerermer, the songs to which are of a lively if not stirring character.  This was essentially a dance of settlement.  The participants stood in a row, fully armed, with their faces painted black.  A bowshot or less away their opponents performed.  Before the actual dance took place, the money or property to be paid over by each side was “cooked.”  It was laid in baskets, held over the fire, blown upon, and sung over, while the party danced about.  No doubt a formula was also recited over the money.  The purpose of this practice was to insure that if the recipient of the pay continued to harbor thoughts of revenge against the payers, his wishes would recoil upon himself.  After this came the war dance proper, performed by each side standing abreast, very much as in the great dances; and finally the payments by each side were actually handed over, provided the reconciliation had not broken up in a battle meanwhile.  It seems that the same or a similar dance was also made as a preparation before war parties started out, but this is not certain.

The chief weapon was the bow.  In close fighting, a short stone club, spatula shaped and blunt edged, was used for cracking heads.  This was called okawaya.  Spears were known, it appears, but very little employed.  There were no shields, but two types of body armor.  One was of thick elk hide, the other a strait-jacket of rods wound together with string.  [Pl. 18.]  Some men preferred not to be encumbered with so stiff a protection.  Women are said sometimes to have rushed into a fight and seized men as if to allay the quarrel, but in reality to hold them for their brothers or husbands to smite.

The greatest war of which the Yurok know took place some years before the Americans came into the country, probably about 1830 or 1840.  Some Weitspus men who had married Hupa wives were attacked while visiting there.  The cause of the grievance has not been recorded.  In the course of the resulting feud the Hupa attacked Weitspus.  During the fight a woman was killed who was born of a Weitspus father and Rekwoi mother, and who was herself half married, that is, living at her father's home.  Her death angered her relatives at Rekwoi, it is said.  At any rate they gathered their forces, to which were added a number of Tolowa.  There were 84 altogether, including 6 women to cook for the party.  This number shows conclusively that even this war was an affair of families or at most villages.  If the Yurok as a whole had mustered against the Hupa they would have been able to assemble nearly ten times as strong.  The party traveled toward Hupa by way of Redwood Creek or the hills above it.  They journeyed three nights, resting during the day.  Early in the morning they waited at Takimitlding.  The first Hupa who emerged was killed.  Then the fight was on.  Many of the Hupa fell, the others fled, and the entire village was burned by the victors, who thereupon seized all the canoes and started homeward down the Trinity River.  Two of the men had taken young women whom they intended to marry.  But at Weitspus, where the party stopped, probably to eat after the morning's work and no doubt to recount its adventures, some people who pitied the girls enabled them to escape.  These connivers may have been individuals with Hupa blood affiliations, perhaps even direct relatives of the two women.

About half a year later the Hupa retaliated.  They were helped by their kinsmen up toward the south fork of the Trinity and by the Chilula.  Nearly 100 of them are said to have gone.  They descended by boat, traveling at night and drawing their canoes up into the brush during the day.  Rekwoi was attacked and burned much as Takimitlding had been.  Those who were not slain had difficulty living through the winter because their stores of food had been destroyed.  The Hupa returned as they had come.  This fact again indicates the private nature of the quarrel.  Canoes must be laboriously poled and in some spots dragged upstream.  Had the Yurok been possessed of any national sentiment in the matter, they could have easily mustered several hundred warriors to overwhelm the Hupa while these were occupied with their difficult navigation.  As a matter of fact, the Yurok relate, the villages along the Klamath made no attempt to stop the war party.  They concluded that scores being now substantially even, a settlement would soon follow.  The Hupa indeed sent to ask for a settlement, and this took place, large amounts being paid on each side.

A feud of some note took place between Sregon and Ko'otep.  When the leading man of Sregon lost his brother by sickness, he accused an inhabitant of Wohtek or Wohkero of having poisoned him.  The suspect was soon killed from ambush.  After this a Sregon man was attacked and killed at Ko'otep, which is only a short distance from Wohtek.  This act involved the people of Ko'otep, which was at this time a large village.  After a time, settlement was proposed, and the two parties met in an open place below Sregon to conclude the negotiations.  Each side was ready to make the customary dance, when some one fired a shot.  In the fight that resulted, a Meta ally of the Sregon people was killed.  The headman of Sregon now went down river with his friends and lay in wait at an overhanging and bushy bank at Serper, where the current takes boats close in shore.  When a canoe of his foes came up, he attacked it and killed four of the inmates.  The feud went on for some time.  Sregon, never a large village, fought, with only some aid from Meta, against Ko'otep, Wohtek, and Pekwan, but lost only 3 men to 10 of their opponents'.  The headman at Sregon was sufficiently wealthy, when settlement came, to pay for all the satisfaction he had earned.  He once said with reference to his experience in this and other feuds, that open battles often took place without anyone being killed.  Somehow men are hard to hit, he philosophized: arrows have a way of flying past a human being when a hunter is sure to strike a deer at the same distance; as modern military handbooks also tell.

A small feud occurred between Meta and Pekwan.  A number of families were camped along the river for fishing, when a man from Wohtek or Wohkero was killed by enemies from Meta.  The grievance is not reported.  Those who had slain him fled to Osegon, presumably because they had relatives there.  The Wohkero kinsmen of the dead man followed them and a fight took place.  An Osegon and a Meta man fell in this little battle.  Subsequently another Meta man was killed.  Afterwards settlement was made.

Many years ago, probably before the arrival of the Americans, Opyuweg, the largest village on Big Lagoon, became involved in a quarrel with the Wiyot, who attacked the town and killed a number of people.  Opyuweg subsequently retaliated, but was unable to even the score, the Wiyot being too numerous.  Consequently when settlement was made Opyuweg received a large balance.  The village fought this feud alone.

Soon after 1860 the Chilula attacked Herwer on Stone Lagoon and killed 10 people.  This was at the time the Chilula were in feud with the Americans and Herwer was very likely made to suffer for aid or information given the whites, or thought by the Chilula to have been given.  The main grievance of the Chilula, as well as their danger, must have been from the Americans, but satisfaction was more easily taken against the Yurok.

Once there was sickness at Ko'otep.  Three Orekw women married at Ko'otep were blamed.  An attempt was made to kill them, but one of the Ko'otep men protected them against the others.  This angered his fellow townsmen, who, with the aid of friends from Weitspus, succeeded in killing him when he was at Ayotl.  One of his kinsmen, probably feeling himself impotent against the actual slayers, revenged himself by killing one of the three women from Orekw, whom he held responsible because it was on their account that his relative had become involved in the quarrel which resulted in his death.  This act, of course, meant war between Orekw and Ko'otep.  The two parties met several times to negotiate the difficulty before they succeeded.  On each occasion some one became excited and fighting commenced over again.  Several men were wounded in these skirmishes, but no one was killed.  In the final settlement one of the surviving Orekw women returned to her home, and the other was married by a housemate of the man who had lost his life through championing her cause.

Other wars were waged between Wetlkwau and Ho'opeu; between Rekwoi, aided by Oketo and Tsurau, against the Tolowa of Smith River; and by Weitspus, as an ally of the Karok of Orleans, against the Hupa and Chilula.

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