Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Katy Al-La-Hle Chief’s Wife/Stately Indian was Popular

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, January 22, 1961, page 6

Katy was not her Indian name. Her Indian name was too hard for the pioneers to pronounce. They, therefore, called her “Katy” for short. She was reputed to be of royal Indian lineage. Her face, figure and mien bore out well this reputation. Katy wore her long glistening black hair parted in the middle at her crown, plaited in two braids which fell over her bosom. Her complexion was a clear bronze. Her unplucked, straight black eyebrows made known her emotions. Her eyes were large, dark, thoughtful and kind. She had the traditional high cheek bones and thin lips of the North American Indian. Her face expressed much intelligence and strength of character. She was much taller than the average Indian woman and quite “Junoesque” in stature.

Katy had been well trained for a chief’s wife. She knew all the medicinal herbs and plants that grew in this locality and how to prepare and administer them. She had been taught how to tan pelts and hides; to weave grass and toolie reed mats for tepees; to make willow fish fence and traps; how and when to harvest the different wild food, plants and berries. She had attended the Indian school at Fort Simcoe and learned the white man’s ways of washing, ironing, preparing of food and housekeeping. She made her own Indian saddle. It was a work of art. The Indians used the lower jawbones of two buffalo in making their saddle tree. They reversed the bones so that the front of one jawbone faced the front and the front of the other faced the rear. The front jawbone formed the horn or pommel of the saddle and the other, facing the rear, formed the cantle of the saddle. The loose ends of the jawbones were fastened to two boards that were shaped to fit the back of the horse. Wet rawhide was sewed over the saddle tree. When this dried it shrunk very tight. Stirrup straps with loop stirrup, or calvalry stirrups, were fastened to the boards that were shaped to fit the back of a horse as were also cinch rings to lace the woven horsehair cinches. A pelt was placed under the saddle to protect the horse’s back and a buckskin or blanket was thrown over the seat of the saddle for the comfort of the rider. The horse’s bridle was buckskin or woven horsehair.

The Indian infant or papoose was strapped to a board and kept in an upright position most of the time during its early life. The mother’s fashioned very ornate boards with canopies to protect the papoose’s head from the sun and weather. The mother carried this board or bassinet on her back by means of a looped strap that was fastened to the top of the board and through which the mother thrust her head and used as a brow band. The Indian mother took the entire bassinet in her arms when she nursed her child. The Indian mothers would sing and chant to their young, but never rocked them. The Indian mothers never smoked. The Indian women’s horses were “broke” to pace or foxtrot because with the children it was an easier gait than a trot or canter.

Katy was the regular washer-woman for many of the pioneer women. She would come on her beautiful bay horse at day break, picket out her horse, wait until the family had finished their breakfast, then come in and eat hers. She would bring the wash boiler, wash board and tubs from the back porch, build up the fire, and fill the wash boiler with water. She would then select the white clothes from the dark and go at it in earnest. Katy was exceptionally clean and took great pride in her work. She was large and strong. She would, with good drying weather, wash, starch and iron the weekly wash for a family of seven or eight and mop the kitchen floor in a half day’s time. The stipend paid for this task was “mox quata” or fifty cents.

The observing eye of Katy saved the life of an infant child of one of her employers. She noticed that all was not well with the “hi-iu humm ikta-hs” which in Chinook jargon meant diapers. She spoke to the pioneer mother. The worried mother showed the bottle of medicine, a prescription from a doctor in Walla Walla, which she was giving to the child for summer complaint. Katy looked at the bottle, then at the hi-iu humm ikta-hsm straightened herself to her full 5 feet 10 inches and exclaimed: “Boston man las mestin wake Skookum.” (meaning white man medicine is not good!) She went out near the backdoor where the wild tansy, a weed hated by the pioneers, grew in profusion. She dug up a few of the plants, roots and all, brought them into the kitchen, cut off the tops, washed the roots and placed the roots in a stew pan of cold water on the stove. They simmered for a half hour. She then placed about a tablespoon full of the fluid into the baby’s nursing bottle with it’s prepared can milk. The mother followed the instructions that Katy gave her and in a week’s time the child had recovered. This happened over 70 years ago. Would you believe it? The same brand of baby’s milk can be purchased today.

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