The Forgotten Tribes

This slim book may prove of some interest to folklorists seeking to discover previously unpublished Native American tales from the Columbia River region of Oregon and Washington states. No doubt stories that describe the “Origin of the Horse” and “How a Water Ball Was Made” are attractive curiosities, as are tales of “Dwarf Mountain People” and the “Battle Between Eagle and Owl.” Donald M. Hines—who happens also to be the book’s publisher—repeatedly states that the tales included here are not merely rewritten from existing sources, but rather that they are original myths and legends and that, as presented, they preserve the oral sense of their original narration.

Hines tells us that these tales or narratives were collected by one Lucullus V. McWhortor—a rancher who lived in the vicinity of the Yakima Reservation from 1903 until the time of his death in 1944. Hines reports that McWhortor would listen to stories told around campfires or recited during longhouse ceremonies and would later transcribe from memory the stories he’d heard.

It should be noted that fully one-third of the book—the most engaging portion of the text—consists of a description of Tenino culture, written by G. P. Murdock and originally published—as nearly as can be determined from the extensive (forty-two-pages) appendices—in 1938. The twenty-or-so historical photographs that accompany the text—including fifteen by Edward S. Curtis—are clearly and sharply reproduced.

Altogether THE FORGOTTEN TRIBES makes a curious package. Apparently Hines discovered some valuable and interesting material housed in the Washington State University Library—work transcribed and collected by a man who lived and worked among Native people who have since all but disappeared. Now, as publisher, he has issued a portion of that work (along with comments on Tenino culture published some sixty years ago by yet another scholar) in a way which suggests that he is its author.

Hines says in his introduction that McWhortor was a self-taught folklorist who—although he “knew little of conventional genres”—collected as best he knew how. Presumably not an amateur himself—the book’s jacket notes that Hines earned a Ph.D. in Folklore and American Studies from Indiana University—Hines, on the other hand, should know better.