Klamath Tribe


Native Klamath culture was tied to the water of the rivers, lakes and marshes of the Klamath basin northeast of Mt. Shasta on both sides of the Oregon - California border. Staples of their diet were primarily water born including suckers, trout, and salmon from the lakes and rivers, as well as water fowl and wokas, the seeds from pond lilies, that still grow in profusion in the Klamath marshes. It is no wonder that their sense of place as reflected in their stories of origins - both their own and their land - are tied to water as the following suggests.

There was no land, only a great lake. Kamukamts came from the north in a canoe. It floated along. It stopped. He shook it, but could not move it. He looked down, and in the water he saw the roof of a house. It was the house of Pocket Gopher. Gopher looked up. Then Kamukamts went down into the house, and they talked.

Kamukamts said, "You had better be thinking of what is the best thing to do."

"Yes, I am thinking of that now," replied Gopher.

"If you can plan anything better than I can do, you shall be the elder brother," promised Kamukamts. "What kind of food are we going to have?"

Gopher opened his mouth to yawn, and fish, roots, and berries came forth.

"It seems that you will be the elder brother," said Kamukamts.

That night Gopher caused his companion to sleep, and he burrowed under the bottom of the lake and made it bulge up into hills and mountains, which raised their tops above the surface. In the morning he said, "You had better go and look around!" When Kamukamts went out he was astonished. Gopher asked what should become of his house, and Kamukamts replied, "It will always remain as the oldest mountain" [Modoc Point].

"What will our children have for amusement?" asked Kamukamts. They played the game of throwing spears at a mark. They threw them, and their targets were hills. Kamukamts' spear knocked off the top of Bare Island, and so it is today. Then they invented all the other games.

Gopher asked, "What will live on the mountains?"

"Mountain lions, bears, elk, deer." Kamukamts named all the animals, both beasts and birds.

"What will grow in the mountains?" asked Gopher.

"I will walk over the earth and see what I can do," replied Kamukamts. So he went about and selected homes for the different tribes, and in each territory he placed something which was to characterize that particular tribe, such as obsidian in the Paiute country, marble in the Shasta country, and tules in the Klamath Country. Then he looked about and saw smoke. Kamukamts said, "What is the matter, I wonder? I see smoke here and there."

And Gopher replied, "You have beaten me. You are the elder brother." For he knew that the smoke was from the fires of people brought into being by Kamukamts. They listened, and heard the sound of people talking, and of children laughing and playing. The people increased very rapidly, and the animals and plants on the mountains multiplied.

Jarold Ramsey, editor, Coyote Was Going There, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977, pp 185-186.

Last modified in August, 2019 by Rick Thomas