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An unforgotten legacy Yachats commemorates the history of the Amanda’s Trail

Posted: Tuesday, Aug 4th, 2009

Tribal elder Carolyn Slyter addresses a crowd of over 150 during the July 19 dedication of the newly completed Amanda’s Trail in Yachats before presenting gifts of abalone shell and bone to Yachats Mayor Ron Bream and Amanda’s Trail ambassador Joanne Kittel. (Photo by Barbara Covell) The statue to commemorate Amanda stands 2 miles from the original Amanda Trailhead on the west side of Highway 101, before climbing on to Cape Perpetua. (Courtesy photo)
On Sunday, July 19, over 150 people gathered in Yachats to dedicate the newly completed Amanda’s Trail - a tribute to the Native Americans of the central Oregon coast and the tragedy that befell them as they were ripped from their native land to make room for white settlers.

The dedication for the completed Amanda’s Trail began with the haunting tones of flutist Doc Slyter, son of Carolyn Slyter, a Tribal Elder and Council Member for the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians.

Chief Warren Brainard of the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians said a prayer for those gathered, “May this day be a journey of the Heart, quest of the Spirit, and a calming of the Soul.”

Mayor Ron Brean spoke of the dark time in history when people came to the Alsea sub-agency near present day Yachats against their will. “This will never happen again,” he said. “This trail is dedicated to all those people who were removed from their homeland, at great sorrow. It was all so unnecessary.”

Lauralee Svensgaard, Coordinator for the Amanda Trails Project, told of the 150-year effort to keep Amanda’s legacy alive - a project once deemed impossible by government entities.

The story of Amanda’s Trail began in 1864 when the U.S. Cavalry rounded up the coastal Coos and Lower Umpqua tribes, forcibly and inhumanely driving them to walk the rugged route over sharp rocks and blackberry brambles to the designated reservation at the Alsea sub-agency, a dumping ground for coastal Indian tribes.

The only people who did not endure this fate of being sent to the “Great Reservation” were native women married to white settlers, or the rare instance of a native man married to a white woman.

As the legend goes, a young Coos Tribe native named Amanda - the common law wife of a white settler -- and her 11-year-old daughter Julia were returning from a morning of fishing in their canoe when soldiers surprised them and seized Amanda, another body in their daily tally headed for the dreaded “Great Reservation.”

Julia was left alone to scream for her mother. It is unknown if the soldiers chose to leave the child because she was half-white, or whether children were too much of a burden for the militiamen.

In the case of common-law marriages, such as Amanda’s, the soldiers had the right to remove the woman, even if she had children left behind.

The Alsea sub agency was more of a prison camp than a reservation. There was little food and only a few could leave to hunt, fish or gather wood. Disease was rampant. Anyone who escaped was hunted, captured and returned.

Almost half of the tribes’ people died from the grueling ordeal of the walk or the lack of food and resources after getting to the reservation. There was a per-person subsidy of $2.50 per year for the tribes’ people to exist on.

The end to Amanda’s story is unknown. Whether she survived the late 1860’s in the Alsea sub-agency is still a question. Did Julia ever see her mother again? This remains another unknown. It is known that young Amanda, blind and bound to others, was forced to walk barefoot 80 miles on jagged rock, through blackberry thickets that produced a trail of blood, in mile after mile of increasing hardship. The soldiers enjoyed treating their Indian charges as poorly. What could have been on Amanda’s mind as she trudged ahead? How did she get the courage to go forward? One can only guess.

All that is known for sure is that her blood stains the land, a legacy to the pain, suffering and sorrow inflicted on her people.

Yachats resident Joanne Kittel initiated repeated efforts to complete Amanda’s Trail since purchasing her 27-acre property on Cape Perpetua in 1986. Lloyd Colette, the Director of Cape Perpetua Scenic Area during the 1960’s, a prominent figure in preserving Amanda’s legacy, inspired her. Kittel has worked to recruit volunteers, designers, landscapers and construction engineers to assist in her goal for a fluid trail system that would not cross Highway 101 in a critical juncture.

The trail was completed with the involvement of many organizations and volunteers including the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Parks, Lincoln Land Legacy, Angell Job Corp, Oregon Youth and Conservation Corps, View the Future, Kathleen and Jerry Sand and former mayor Susanne Smith.

During the July 19 ceremony, Kittle laid a wreath at the base of a statue of Amanda.

“Let us never forget,” she said.

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