Encampment celebrates anniversary of Table Rocks agreement
By Ron Karten
Smoke Signals staff writer
MEDFORD -- An informal encampment brought a small but happy bunch of Tribal Elders, Tribal Council members, Tribal members and staff members to the Rogue River, which is a stone’s throw from Table Rocks, on the weekend of Sept. 7-9.
Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryle A. Kennedy, Secretary Jack Giffen Jr. and Tribal Council members Steve Bobb Sr. and June Sherer, along with Public Works Department Manager John Mercier, Tribal Attorney Rob Greene, Ceded Lands Coordinator Mike Karnosh and Elders Nancy Renfrow and Bernadine Shriver helped celebrate the occasion.
The campout marked the first anniversary of a Memorandum of Understanding the Tribe signed in 2011 with the Bureau of Land Management and The Nature Conservancy that gives the Tribe a say in maintaining almost 5,000 acres of pristine land around the Tribally significant landmark.
Grand Ronde Tribal ancestors were held at Table Rocks before being marched northward to Grand Ronde in the Trail of Tears of February and March 1856.
The story was a little different 156 years later as Tribal children played at a stunning bend in the Rogue River, took powerboat rides with sliding stops right out of a James Bond movie, held a cookout with traditional foods and heard great and tragic stories of the Tribe’s past.
Hosts were Taylor and Emily Grimes, owners of Rogue Jet Boat Adventure Center at the newly named Wapiti (Elk) River Park. They have established a relationship with the Tribe as they build stories of the past into their boating adventures.
“We try to educate people by treating our ancestors as people no different than we are today,” said Taylor, a strapping outdoorsman with a heavy hand on the powerboat controls. “They were families, and like a lot of snowbirds who come to the area today because of the gentle winters and pristine natural resources, so did the Native peoples.”
The river park is centered just south of the Rattlesnake Rapids among countless Indian camps, Grimes said. “The Rogue River was home to gobs of Indian bands.”
On Friday night, encampment participants enjoyed a traditional salmon dinner and craft demonstrations by Jordan Mercier and others. Grimes also told stories from the history of the area.
In 1821, he said, when French explorers came through the area, they came down the center of the valley where Native bands lived. Among their diaries, one wrote, “They are quite the wild lot,” and nicknamed them, “the Rogues.”
“It was another 20 years before the Rogues encountered Europeans,” Grimes said.
The 1849-50 gold rush in southern Oregon started the settling of the valley by Europeans, and miners moved north looking to expand the search for gold. Two years of problems between Europeans and Natives began in 1851.
The Treaty of 1853 was signed above Salmon Rock, downstream from the encampment, and Fort Lane was built in 1854 farther south along the river.
When the gold ran out in 1855, Major J.A. Lupton had an idea, Grimes said. “If the settlers could start an Indian War, the government would pay them to fight it. And so, in 1856, three dozen miners and settlers raided and killed 30 Indian women and children at Little Butte Creek” just south of the encampment.
Within the week, the Rogues killed 70 white settlers and the war had begun.
On Saturday, during a sunny afternoon, Miguel Adams, 11, David DeMarco, 12, along with Kevin and Robin Simmons’ children – Kaelynn, 11, Makai, 9, Shasta, 7, Seq’hiya, 6, and even Qwinem, 1 – played in the water and on the shore for hours.
They sat in chairs in the river; pulled out a rowboat and paddled up and down along the shore; rolled on the grasslands by the river, and, of course, went for rides in the jet boat.
“Making memories,” said Grimes.
Grimes also is working with the Tribe to develop historical signage along the river to plant the history in solid ground, said Tribal Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor, who organized the weekend event.
“A lot of struggle and family singing happened here,” said Kevin Simmons.
“Blessings on our Tribe,” said Elder Bernadine Shriver.