Except for a few place names, little remains of the ancient cultures who lived in the Illinois River Valley for thousands of years. However for all practical purposes, even the place names have been lost—relegated to the obsure writings of early anthropologists and those synthesizing their work.
We know the Takelma place name for the Illinois River is “Dalsalsan” (Sapir 1907a:256). The Takelma’s name for the waterfall in the Illinois River at the place called Talsalsan is Ti-wi-kh (Harrington 1981:523). Ti-wi-kh is surely the Illinois River Falls—located just above the confluence of Fall Creek with what is now the Wild and Scenic Illinois River. Talsalsan is thought to be a village or gathering place on the Illinois where the people would trade for salmon and play games.
That we’re left with only this tiny bit of knowledge and vague references is because the genocide committed against the original inhabitants of the Illinois Valley was swift and complete. Within five years, after the discovery of gold at the confluence of Canyon and Josephine Creek, those who’d cared for and occupied the land for thousands of years were either dead or forced—in Oregon’s own “trail of tears”—onto two reservations where few survived long term.
In American Anthropoligst, Edward Sapir writes:
“Few regions in this country are so slightly known, both ethnologically and linguistically, as the section of Washington and Oregon lying east of the strip of coast land, and in this large area the position occupied by the Takelma Indians, generally rather loosely referred to as Rogue or Upper Rogue River Indians …”
According to Sapir, in 1884 there were only twenty-seven Takelma
remaining and in 1906 only three living speakers of the language. The primary informant for what little we know about the Takelma people was Francis Johnson, who was from the valley of the Rogue, east of Grants Pass.
Citing Harrington, Gray also provides a glimpse into the significance of Ti-wi-kh, the Illinois River Falls, writing:
“When the water level of the Rogue was too high for salmon fishing and supplies of this staple were running low, the Takelma went to the Illinois Valley to a place named Talsalsan and purchased dry salmon from the Athapascan speakers there.”
To those few of use who knew the Falls before the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife installed a fish ladder there, this makes sense. In the 1950′s, we’d spend whole afternoons in fascination watching huge salmon, some battered and bruised, that would congregate in the natural potholes (pools in the bedrock) below the Illinois River Falls. It was a place for the great salmon to rest and regroup after attempting to jump the falls and access their spawning grounds in the upper river.
Main drop at Illinois River Falls (Ti-wi-kh) at low flows.