Machu Picchu of the Umpqua

by Mike Dubrasich, Exec Dir W.I.S.E.

Last summer intrepid researchers rediscovered an ancient Indian village perched on a recondite ridgetop in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Preliminary findings indicate that the site has been occupied for at least 3,000 years, or five times longer than the Incan sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru [here].

Now known as Huckleberry Lake, the ancient village was likely a summer residence for tribes from both the Umpqua and Rogue watersheds, including Molallan, Takelman, and Latgawan people, in recent precontact times (prior to ~1800).

Huckleberry Lake in 2010. Click for larger image. Photo courtesy Bob Zybach, Oregon Websites and Watersheds Project, Inc.

Following leads from Chuck Jackson, elder of the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe, landscape historians Dr. Bob Zybach and Nana Lapham located abundant evidence of ancient human use along the Rogue-Umpqua Divide in the vicinity of Huckleberry Lake. That evidence includes mortar and pestle rocks, obsidian debitage, food and fiber plants, and an ancient trail system, all consistent with oral histories of the Cow Creeks.

The Rogue-Umpqua Divide is a southwest tending spur of the north/south tending High Cascades that extends ~20 miles west of the Cascade Crest at elevations above 5,000 feet. Huckleberry Lake is on the westernmost point of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, less than a day’s walk from known winter village sites near Tiller, OR.

Numerous springs that arise seemingly from the ridgetop are fed by lava tubes originating far to the east. They water small lakes perched above steep canyons that fall away to the north and south. Athough the vegetation today consists of dense true firs, remnant huckleberry fields (Vaccinium membranaceum) are evidence of a larger huckleberry complex that once carpeted the entire Divide [here].

Human tending with frequent anthropogenic fire must have been the principal factor that maintained the huckleberry brushfields, by excluding tree invasions. In the absence of such tending over the last 100 years or so, tree invasion has been extensive.

Dr Zybach stated:

There is very little history or other information available about the people who lived in the study area 200 years ago; however, much can be inferred from what is known of neighboring Tribes of that time, the presence and extent of current and historical vegetation patterns (particularly those of food and fiber plants), archaeological research, and known precontact travel and trade routes. Because people at that time did not have horses and because the South Umpqua headwaters are not navigable by canoe, travel was done by foot, along well-established ridgeline and streamside trail systems. Primary destinations would have been local village sites, seasonal campgrounds, peaks, waterfalls, the mouths of streams, and various crop locations, such as huckleberries, camas, and acorns.

Trail networks indicate where people went at certain times of the year, where they camped, and where they came from (or went to). Trails connect principal seasonal campgrounds, based on food harvesting and processing schedules, fishing and hunting opportunities, and trade. Freshwater springs at higher elevations were a critical element, such as Neil Spring near Huckleberry Lake.

Location and carbon dating of ancient home sites at Huckleberry Lake has yet to be done, but camas ovens in the area (with charcoal that has been carbon dated) indicate “intense and continuous [occupation] between 3,000 and 300 years ago” by Native Americans [here].

The research efforts are part of the South Umpqua Headwaters Precontact Reference Conditions Study, sponsored by Douglas County and supported by the Umpqua National Forest and the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe.

28 Nov 2010, 5:14pm
by bear bait

For the whole of my career as a timber buyer for mills and logging outfits, the USFS precluded ANY and all excursions near, to, and into prairies, lakes, fens, swamps, meadows or partially treed areas surrounding those areas. Of course, the total result of that management inattention to historic detail was to foster even more tree occupation of high use sites from pre European contact times.

The answer, of course, is not to incinerate the area, which is the new management directive, but to make a serious helicopter logging effort around those areas to slow or stop tree incursions. I cannot think of a better way to reclaim our national heritage than to remove the last 150 years of tree growth, in its entirety, limbs, tops, all of it, by air and leave only stumps and sunlight, at which point a spring burn of light fuels might enhance the area.

You know, proactive management to preserve a glimpse into how and what the country once was. If the land managers wanted to ring a few trees for snags, I would be fine with that. I would also suggest that all trees, merchantable or not, be removed in their entirety. Reclaim the area for what it was for millennia, a home and a place to gather food and fiber, mostly free of trees.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out the Feds or the Oregon Board of Forestry in their total denial that openings, meadows, human-maintained prairies and food-growing sites for strawberries, cat’s ears, huckleberries, camas, and all the stuff I don’t know about, are NOT about a “working forest” in the modern usage of the term.

Sorry, folks, but forests are more than solid stands of trees. That is the Germanic efficiency-of-use mindset speaking to all the old white men who run things because they are the ones who got the graduate degrees and stayed out of jail. Sloppy forestry is probably better than regimented forestry, which has increased the fuels problem. Those 435 planted trees per acre survived, and the Congress pissed away all the money collected from past timber sales to pre-commercially thin those plantations. Instead of sloppy forestry, we got sloppy governance in its stead. All in the name of good science and spot on management. We lost history, diversity, plant communities, and the animals that benefited from them. And now new information tells us we can undo some of the past divergence from the past forest schemes by earlier managers who had 3,000 years or more to perfect their craft.

The Feds talk the talk but never walk the walk. Perhaps this is a place to start. A community effort by the Cow Creek Band, the Feds, the County, the State, and WISE supporters, to bring back some of the Eden once ballyhooed in Eastern newspapers and by writers in Europe a hundred years ago and more.

And use the area. Use it for food gathering and for community gatherings. Use it what created it, and use is what maintained it. Seasonal hazards and weather keep use to a summer experience, anyway.

8 Feb 2011, 9:55pm
by Jim

Native Americans did prescribed burns!… to support edible food sources and wildlife habitat!!… well I never in all my life!!!… I’ll be darned!! They actually utilized and “managed” what nature supplied for them? Not to mention mastered the art. Great piece Mike.



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