A post card which depicts a scene described in the following article.

The Hood River Glacier, Hood River, OR., December 24, 1897, page 2


     HOOD RIVER, Dec. 18, 1897 - Editor GLACIER: About 12 miles westward from the city of the Dalles, so nearly and the center of the mighty Columbia that it divides its channel in twain, surrounded by dizzy cliffs and lofty Mountains, lies at this historic isle, the Sacred resting place of the dead. The heaving, swirling currents ceaselessly wash its rocky base, while the drifting sands year by year raise in every-growing dunes upon its wind-swept summit. A fitting place, indeed, in its dreary desolation, in its gruesome loneliness, for the dusky hosts that have for untold generations past claimed it for their last resting place. Scanty vegetation thinly covers its undulating surface and retains the shifting sands that form its soil.
     Some forty years ago, in the company of an old Indian, I visited this noted islet and gazed in wonder upon the scenes of ghastly skulls and bleaching bones that lay in heaps and clusters upon the ground. The ancient custom of the Middle Columbia Indians was to bury their dead in houses built of cedars slats set on the end and from 10 to 12 feet square by 5 or 6 feet high. At the time of my visit, as near as I can remember, there was from twenty to thirty of these houses in a fair state of preservation, being constantly cared for and renewed by rude but loving hands. To fully appreciate the sights that met by wondering gaze I will give a brief description of their funeral ceremonies.
     When the final act in the drama has closed, the body is at once clothes in the best that can be procured. The bedding and cast-off garments of the deceased are burnt and everything destroyed that has been used during the last illness. When rigidity sets in the body is wrapped in blankets and tightly bound hand and foot by cords and thongs. It is then tied upon a cedar plank, taken to a secured place and hung up until thoroughly dried or mummified. It is then taken down, and with all the remaining earthly possessions of the dead, excepting horses, is placed in a canoe occupied by men only and followed by friends and relatives, who take their mournful course of the silent river to the "city of the dead." The women alone give voice to their grief in sobs and a mournful chant, with words indicative of their sorrow. The men never give vent to their feelings, but sit in the presence of death with reverence and dignity. Mourning for the dead commences as soon as the breath has gone and is continued until the removal from the house, for which the early hour between the daybreak and sunrise is generally chosen. How often in the rosy light of dawn have I listened to the mournful cadence as plaintively it filled the still, fresh air! touching that cord of sympathy, to all Earth's sorrowing children. On reaching the isle of the dead the body is placed in the house belonging to the family and the belongings on the opposite side in the general heap. After the body has been duly laid to rest, the door is closed and presents of cloth or blankets are made by the next of kin to those who have attended the funeral services. Frequently the corpse is taken immediately after death direct to the island and suspended to the roof of the dead house. Selecting one of the houses in the best repair, my companion removed the door and we entered. On the right was piled body on body to the very roof, while on the left were heaped indiscriminately the things so dearly prized in life. There was an old flint-lock musket and a long Kentucky rifle; a single-barrel horse pistol, with the wooden stock running the full length of the barrels and covered with brass tacks; hatchets, axes, brass and iron kettles; bows and arrows; feather ornaments, and in fact everything that an Indian's fancy would temp him to buy, beg or steal; but all rendered useless. The guns had their stocks broken, the kettles had holes punched in them. This was done on account of white relic hunters who had already taken many things from the houses. There were also four or five brightly-colored brassy-bound, bass-tacked trunks that had belonged to the squaws. Some were locked and some tied with ropes and straps. Most of them were filled with women's wear and trinkets, such as calico, muslin, dress patterns, dresses, blankets, shawls, brass and copper ornaments, beads and bead work on buckskin, all in good order and undisturbed. Two of these trunks, as well as several boxes, had been used as coffins, having been filled with the bones of the owner. These trunks were first imported by the Hudson Bay Co. and were very highly prized by the Indians, and also very expensive, ranging in price as high as $25 to $30 each. One of the trunks contained the perfect bodies of two little girls of 7 or 8 years of age, evidently placed in the trunks before rigidity had set in, as their little skinny bodies were cramped and squeezed to fit their gaudy coffins. There was no sign of clothing either around or on them. Another instance that attracted my attention was the mummy of a full grown male that had every appearance of having been buried alive, either intentionally or in a cataleptic state. Inquiry gave me no satisfaction, as my guide either did not know or would not tell, merely saying, "I don't know; possibly he might have been a slave. Some time, a long while ago, when big chief die, they bury slaves along with him," and hastened to say they don't do so any more. This I know to be untrue, however, as not long previous to my visit a woman had died leaving a pair of twin babies. Not wishing to separate mother and children, all were taken to the island and the children rolled in blankets and placed in the mother's arms and left to die. Some white persons hearing of the terrible fate to which they had been left, hastened to the island and rescued them, both still living though almost suffocated. Another instance then fresh in my memory was that of a slave who was buried alive with his master, a sub-chief of the Wascos. He was rescued and taken to the house of his rescuer. Another house of much earlier date was literally packed from one side to the very ceiling with bodies as one would cords of wood, while on the other side, were thrown in a heap the dismembered bodies. There was the shriveled arm of a girl with four brass bracelets and circling her wrist; here the little grimy hand of a child still clenching an old pewter spoon; skulls with locks of long-faded hair. How pitiful it looked! How one's memory wandered back to the time when these piles of bones were animated with life and roamed the mountains or paddled their swift canoe down the beautiful river. So on from house to house we wandered until all were passed. How wonderingly I traced in these musty bones advancing civilization. Here in this house were the signs of later life -- trunks, cloth and dishes of crockery ware. In another were the flint-lock muskets, the brass and copper kettles and ornaments; stovepipes and bows and arrows, with the buck and elkskin clothing; and still further back the only signs of later life were a few rude ornaments, Indian made, of copper sheathing taken from the hull of some stranded ship, and a few large, rudely made beads; while in this house not a sign of the white man's work was found. The long, tapering shell money and round, flat shell beads were scattered around everywhere. Fragments of feathered ornaments on buckskin, some arrow heads, some beautifully polished stone pestles and mortars, and the tale of the past was told. How peacefully and undisturbed then slept the brown-skinned children of the forest! Now, all is changed. The sacrilegious hand of the vandal relic hunter and grave robber has despoiled this city of the dead. The houses are in ruins. The mummified bodies have been carried away by the hundreds, and naught remains but the bleaching bones and grimy skulls, for their dead are now laid to rest by the side of their white brothers. On a bleak, wind-swept point on the islet's southern shore a white man willed to make his grave. "A marble shaft attracts the stranger's eye, and guards his long repose. A convivial soul renowned for naught. "Never again shall the grand old river bear on its placid bosom the mournful burden. Never again shall the rugged cliffs and the beetling crags re-echo the plaintiff wail of those who mourn their beloved dead. "For the former things have passed away." The dusky child of Nature is swiftly passing like a shadow of the night, soon to be known no more in haunts of men.

H.C. Coe.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer