Ti'lomikh Homeland Rediscovered

Takelma Salmon Ceremony Site Rediscovered at Ti'lomikh Falls

For thousands of years Agnes Pilgrim's Takelma ancestors, the People of the River, hosted a Salmon Ceremony on the Rogue River. Among many purposes, this Takelma tradition sought to thank the salmon for their return, conserve the runs of salmon for the long-term, and affirm their cultural practice of "reciprocity" and "giving back" to Mother Earth.

That all changed in 1856. Following the swift takeover of their Rogue River homelands by miners and settlers, the Takelma people were relocated to a distant federal reservation on Oregon's north coast. This cultural upheaval slashed the Takelma population and halted their annual Salmon Ceremonies for a long, sad period.

Fortunately, memories of the Rogue River Salmon Ceremony did not disappear entirely. Frances Harney Johnson (1844-1934, Grandma Aggie's great aunt) was born in the Rogue Valley. She had participated in salmon ceremonies as a child, until forced to move to the Siletz Reservation at the age of 12. Luckily, Frances never forgot her early life along the Rogue River.

Grandma Aggie's Brothers at Ti'lomikh

Aggie's Brothers at Ti'lomikh

At 89 years of age Great-Aunt Frances, along with Aggie's father and two brothers, accompanied linguist John Harrington on a field trip to the Rogue Valley in 1933, to explore the Takelma homelands and find the actual site of the Salmon Ceremony. Based on her childhood recollections, Frances led the group to the Ti'lomikh Falls ceremony site on the Rogue River, upstream of today's Gold Hill, Oregon.
George Baker - Grandma Aggie's Father at Ti'lomikh

George Baker - Grandma Aggie's Father, in the Story Chair at Ti'lomikh

A photograph was taken of Aggie's father, George Baker, sitting in the "Story Chair" next to the falls, where generations of Takelma tribal elders had watched for the arrival of the first Chinook salmon and signaled the beginning of the Salmon Ceremony. For decades, this priceless photo was lost in the shuffle.

Seventy years later, Thomas Doty, a native culture historian, was delving deep into John Harrington's Rogue Valley field notes from 1933. Doty was also walking the shores of the Rogue River, looking for signs of the Takelma culture before their 1856 removal. His goal was to confirm the actual location of Ti'lomikh Falls and the adjacent Takelma village.

In January 2007, Grandma Aggie found the 1933 photo of her father and brothers at Ti'lomikh Falls, and she showed it to Thomas Doty. Within one day, Thomas found the falls and ceremonial Story Chair shown in the photo.

Steve Kiesling, Agnes Pilgrim, and Thomas Doty (Tish McFadden photo)

Steve Kiesling, Agnes Pilgrim, and Thomas Doty (photo by Tish McFadden)

Six months later, Grandma Aggie and her family brought the Rogue Salmon Ceremony home, to the place where her ancestors had lived and flourished for centuries. Learn more about the ceremonial process.

Steve and Mary Kiesling have generously co-hosted Salmon Ceremonies on their property by Ti'Lomikh Falls. They have also expanded public awareness of the site's history by creating a scenic overlook by the falls on Upper River Road one mile upstream of Gold Hill.

The revival of the Salmon Ceremony at its original home on the Rogue River, spearheaded by Agnes Pilgrim, her family, Thomas Doty, and many others, is a precious addition to the legacy of the Takelma culture.

With deep respect and appreciations to
native historian and storyteller
Thomas Doty (1952 - 2020)
for his significant research and writings
on Takelma history and culture.
Tom Doty Visit ‏Thomas Doty’s amazing 2,000-page website and bio: https://dotycoyote.com/home/bio.html.

Watch this four-part Tribute to Thomas Doty: One With The Story, produced by John Letz at Rogue Valley TV (2020) (28 min. each).
‏Part 1: There Was a House
Part 2: Honing the Art
Part 3: Digging for Roots
‏Part 4: Rippling Out