North Umpqua Waterfalls

April 14, 1991

Twenty Obsidians and friends put ourselves figuratively into moccasins this Sunday morning as we trod the three miles between Belknap Springs crossing and Paradise Campground, following the McKenzie River Trail with Bill Burwell. His knowledge of the Kalapooya and Mollalla peoples who used this route became even more apparent as he described their travels and customs. What we now call the McKenzie River Scenic Trail was in earlier days the most efficient route between their winter and summer ranges, their trading partners and the “Pittsburg of the Northwest” (Bill’s term for the obsidian cliffs in the Cascades, where they procured their basic commodity for both trade and hunting). Obsidian traded by these peoples has been found as far south as Mexico, but it is more likely to be observed closer at hand — we found several small chips — evidence of earlier use of the trail so many miles from the cliff. As the Indians carried their slabs of obsidian, they chipped away at them with a stone as they walked, wasting no time in making the “tool shape” that could be traded or used by the gatherer to shape spear points or arrowheads. We also learned to observe charring on the thick bark of the old Douglas firs, a sign of the brush-controlled fires the Indians used to aid in their hunting. Food plants such as camas and huckleberry were mainstays of the Kalapooya diet, and Bill pointed out other roots and barks commonly used, such as cedars, yew and Oregon grape. The calypso orchids and trillium in bloom this morning lifted our spirits particularly in the early rain, and there’s no reason to think that those earlier travelers found them less welcome. But it was Bill Burwell’s enthusiasm and thoughtfully shared information that made the hike a particular treat. After lunch he demonstrated the chipping technique used to convert obsidian slabs into tool forms and arrowheads. He showed us his own collection, which included a rare ceremonial camas digger and mortar pestle.

Our group on the McKenzie River Trail included Doris Allen, Joyce Baker, Dave Burwell, Jane and John Corliss, Susan Diener, Ben Elkus, Judy Forell, Jules Fraytet, Diane and George Jeffcot, Ray Jensen, Doris and Robert Jones, Helen Lynch, Linda Sherman, Robin Steussy, Paula Vehrs, Janet Wulling, Dallas Cole (facilitator) and leader Bill Burwell.

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