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Impearls: HIC 8.2: The Chilula

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

The Chilula   by A. L. Kroeber

Fig. 13: Chilula land and towns.

Figure 13 – Chilula land and towns. 13
 

The Chilula, who constitute one larger ethnic group with the Hupa and Whilkut, are almost indistinguishable from the Hupa in speech, and were allied with them in hostility toward the Teswan or Coast Yurok and in frequent distrust of the Yurok, Wiyot, and Whilkut, and differed from them in customs only in such matters as were the result of habitat in an adjacent and smaller stream valley.  Like all the Indians of the region, they lacked a specific designation of themselves as a group.  Chilula is American for Yurok Tsulu-la, people of Tsulu, the Bald Hills that stretch between Redwood Creek and the parallel Klamath-Trinity Valley.  Locally they have always been known as the Bald Hills Indians.

The Chilula villages lay on or near lower Redwood Creek from near the inland edge of the heavy redwood belt to a few miles above Minor Creek.  All but one were on the northeastern side of the stream, on which the hillsides receive more sun and the timber is lighter.  A few were as much as a mile or more from the creek, but the majority conformed to the invariable Hupa, Yurok, and Karok practice of standing close to the stream.  In summer the Chilula left their permanent homes, near which they fished, and dwelt chiefly on the upper pra[i]rielike reaches of the Bald Hills ridge, where seeds as well as bulbs abounded and hunting was convenient.  This is a much more distinctively central than northwestern Californian practice.  Some of these summer camps were on the Klamath or Yurok side of the range, so that in this rather unusual case the boundary between the two groups was neither a watershed nor a stream.  In autumn the Chilula either continued their residence in the Bald Hills or crossed Redwood Creek to gather acorns on the shadier hillsides that slope down to their stream from the west.

Eighteen of their former villages are known.  These are placed in Figure 13 The towns there designated as A to R were, in order, Howunakut, Noleding, Tlochime, Kingkyolai, Kingyukyomunga, Yisining'aikut, Tsinsilading, Tondinunding, Yinukanomitseding, Hontetlme, Tlocheke, Hlichuhwinauhwding, Kailuhwtahding, Kailuhwchengetlding, Sikingchwungmitahding, Kinahontahding, Misme, Kahustahding.

Five of the principal Chilula settlements are reported to have been called Cherr'hquuh, Ottepetl, Ohnah, Ohpah, and Roquechoh by the Yurok.  From these names Cherhkwer, Otepetl, Ono, Opau, and Roktso can be reconstructed as the approximate original forms.

On the site of six of the identified settlements, 17, 7, 4, 2, 4, and 8 house pits, respectively, have been counted.  This ratio would give the Chilula a total of 125 homes, or about 900 souls.  As Hupa and Yurok villages, owing to all house sites not being occupied contemporaneously, regularly contain more pits than houses, and the same ratio probably applied to the Chilula, or if anything a heavier one, the figures arrived at must be reduced by about a third.  This would make the Chilula population when the white man appeared some 500 to 600, and the average strength of each settlement about 30 persons.  This is less for the group than for the neighboring ones, and less, too, for the size of each village; as is only natural for dwellers on a smaller stream.

The trails from Trinidad and Humboldt Bay to the gold districts on the Klamath in the early [eighteen] fifties led across the Bald Hills, and the Chilula had hardly seen white men before they found themselves in hostilities with packers and miners.  Volunteer companies of Americans took part, and desultory and intermittent fighting went on for a dozen years.  Part of the Chilula were placed at Hupa, others captured and sent to distant Fort Bragg.  These attempted to steal home, but were massacred by the Lassik on the way.  The Chilula remaining in their old seats and at Hupa avenged their relatives by several successful raids into the territory of their new Indian foes.  On one of these parties, they still mustered, with their Hupa and Whilkut connections, 70 men.  Nongatl Indians closely related to the Lassik also once were confined on Hupa Reservation, which led to further troubles.  Other fights took place with certain Yurok villages.  Thus the Chilula wasted away.  As a tribe they are long since gone.  Only two or three households remain in their old seats, while a few families at Hupa have become merged among their kinsmen of this tribe, in the reckoning of the white man, and practically in their own consciousness.

A Chilula who had killed a Hupa, or who was held responsible because his kinsmen were involved in the killing, attended a brush dance at the Yurok town of Kenek after the American was in the land.  His foes attacked, and while his hosts apparently scattered to keep out of the way of harm to themselves and possible claims arising from participation, he resisted.  He was shot, but evidently only after a little battle, since several bullets were found where he had put them in his piled-up hair ready for quick loading.  He had no doubt come to the celebration prepared for a possible attempt on this life.  His companions were probably outnumbered and ran off.  The next day word was sent from his village that he should be buried at Kenek and payment would be made for the favor.  The risk of ambush to the party bearing his corpse home was seemingly considered too great to brave.  This was a private or family feud, such as would now and then occur among the Hupa themselves, and was hardly likely to disturb the amicable relations between other members of the two groups.  The scale of the affair was probably typical of most of the “wars” of the region, except when most of the embittered Chilula stood desperately together for a season against the American and the native foes instigated by him.

The Chilula built the typical northwestern plank house and small square sweat house in their permanent villages.  (Pl. 13.)  They were the most southerly Athabascan tribe to use this type of sweat house.  In addition, two villages contained large round dance houses of the kind characteristic of the region to the south, but not otherwise known in northwestern California.  It is conceivable that these may have been built only after the white man indiscriminately commingled northern and southern tribes, or after the ghost dance of the early [eighteen] seventies.  While the Yurok and Tolowa received this revivalistic cult from the east, it spread also northward from the Wintun, Pomo, Yuki, and southern Athabascan groups, and may have penetrated to the Chilula.  When the Chilula camped in the hills they erected square but unexcavated houses of bark slabs of the type used for permanent dwellings by the Whilkut.  They knew or occasionally attempted the art of sewing headbands of yellow-hammer quills, such as are used by the central Californian tribes.  (Fig. 20, d.)  Thus, as compared with the Hupa and Yurok, some first approaches to southerly customs are seen among the Chilula.

Their lack of the redwood canoe proves less, as their stream would have been unnavigable except in times of torrential flood.  There is a tradition that they once practiced the Deerskin dance, but neither the form of the ceremony nor the spot at which it was held is known.  They no doubt participated, as guests and contributors of regalia, in the Hupa dances, as they do now; and possibly also in those of the Yurok at some villages, though many of the Yurok have been their enemies both before and since the arrival of the American.

Fig. 20: Sections of head bands of yellow-hammer quills: Pomo; Yuki; Chilula.

Figure 20.  Sections of head bands of yellow-hammer quills. 20
a, b, Pomo; c, Yuki; d, Chilula.
Click on image, or here, for larger version.  Compare with Pl. 58.



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