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As It Was: Tribes Gather for Annual Huckleberry Picking

Native American families living in the South Umpqua Valley have been picking mountain huckleberries for generations.  A member of the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe, Emaline Young, born in 1905, described participating from the age of four in the tribe’s annual berry-picking tradition.

Young said in her memoirs that tribal families camped out on a mountain from August through the first frost.  She said families from enemy tribes met peacefully to gather the berries.

Her tribe readied berries and deer meat for storage by drying them for two days on an 8-foot-square flat rock.  On the Rogue River side of the mountain, people collected hazelnuts, also known as filberts.

Young remembered it as a time of singing, dancing, and thanksgiving for a good harvest.  Making music by blowing on reeds or leaves, families danced around a bonfire to drumbeats, singing loudly and stopping to listen for the answering echo from the mountains.

At age 74, Young said she only missed the annual picking twice in her life.  She said, “My trip there seems to give me a feeling of peace and I feel strengthened to face the year ahead.”

Source: Young, Emaline L. "Indian Memories." Pioneer Days in the South Umpqua Valley, vol. 13, 1980, pp. 15-19.   

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.