To the Editor:
Regarding the letters in the February 12 issue of the Redwood Times urging that the Bear Gulch Bridge be renamed Wailaki Pass Bridge:
1. Although the linguist Pliny Goddard popularized the word “Sinkyone,” it was originally an Indian term. In an interview with Goddard on July 15, 1908, an Indian named Charlie stated that “nongal [Nongatl] call us sinkyone. We don’t call that way.” The Nongatls were a neighboring Athabascan group, speaking a closely related language that occupied part of the main Eel River, Larabee Creek, and the Van Duzen River. Charlie’s tribe actually had a name very similar to “Sinkyone,” however-it was “Sinkene.” According to notecards that Goddard prepared based on Charlie’s information, the Sinkenes had villages on Salmon Creek and along the South Fork Eel from its mouth up to about Butte Creek. Next upriver on the South Fork was a tribe whose name has been lost; its territory apparently extended to about Dean Creek. The next tribe upriver, which occupied only the east side of the South Fork, was the To-kub-be ke-ahs, who claimed land all the way to Benbow. The Bear Gulch Bridge is within their territory. All three of the above-mentioned tribes, along with several others, are commonly lumped together under the name Sinkyone.
If it seems inappropriate or confusing to use a neighboring tribe’s name, such as “Sinkyone,” as an umbrella term for more than a dozen separate tribal groups, consider the use of the term “Wailaki.” According to A. L. Kroeber, the word originally came from the Wintun Indians; it meant “north language,” and was first used to designate certain Wintun groups. C. Hart Merriam notes that in 1851 the name “Wylacker” was used on a map of California for Indians living near Cottonwood Creek, in Tehama County. Goddard had a hand in applying the name to Athabascan Indians when he wrote “the Habitat of the Wailaki” in 1923. He described 18 Wailaki “subtribes,” each with its own name. They were all located either on the North Fork or main Eel, none of them farther downriver than Kekawaka Creek.
3. In “The Last of the West,” an unpublished biography of Pierce Asbill, his son Frank uses “Wylackie” for any Indian that his father and his friends encountered in southeastern Humboldt, southwestern Trinity, or northeastern Mendocino counties. Chapter 11, “The Last Wylackie Indian Round Up,” contains a lengthy account of the attack that Asbill and others made on an Indian village near present-day Briceland. The story tells of the Indians’ retreat through Garberville (where two of them leap to their death), on through several other locations and finally north to Island Mountain. It was during the early part of this retreat that the Indians passed through Bear Gulch.
But were the Indians who made this retreat actually Wailakis? You can’t take Asbill’s word for it, since he called all the area’s Indians by that name. Moreover, the village near Briceland where the attack started was almost certainly To-cho-be, the namesake community of the To-cho-be ke-ah tribe, one of the Indian groups included under the term Sinkyone. It’s possible that Indians from more than one tribe had sought refuge at To-cho-be, but it is highly unlikely that the village had been entirely taken over by Wailakis, whose home territory was far to the east, across the South Fork Eel and beyond Pratt Mountain. It is much more likely that the Indians who retreated across Bear Gulch were mostly, if not entirely, from one or more of the groups we call Sinkyone.
5. It is also highly unlikely that the Sinkyones would have willingly allowed any Wailakis to even enter their territory, given the testimony of Gladys Nomland’s interviewees in her Sinkyone Notes: “The Sinkyone intermarried freely with all surrounding tribes (including the Yuki and Wiyot) except the treacherous Wailaki. To these last-named they felt a great antipathy and charged them with wanton murder of the traders who entered their territory.”
This might help explain why Indians with Sinkyone ancestry object to having a location within their traditional territory being named “Wailaki Pass Bridge.” Surely a name can be found that offends neither Wailakis nor Sinkyones.