15 Apr “We Are Here” Honors Native Americans (Part 3 of 3)
(Part 3 of 3: Wood carving at SOU Hannon Library,
stories from 2012 to 2020)
How the 20′ tall sculpture was moved.
Every carving on sculpture described.
Quotes from Grandma Aggie.
Ashland Public Art Series.
Summary of “We Are Here” – Parts 1 and 2
“We Are Here” is a sculpture that honors the First Nations of the Rogue Valley. In addition to a sculpture, it has been called a wood carving, a Spirit Pole and a Prayer Pole. The bronze replica is located where North Main Street and Lithia Way meet, a very visible location just one block from the Plaza.
This article (Part 3 of 3) is about the original wood carved prayer pole, which was moved from North Main street to Southern Oregon University Hannon Library in December of 2012. This map shows the location of Hannon Library.
“I felt very honored to work with Matthew Haines and Russell Beebe, and it was a great honor to be able to do this for our people, for the Old Ones.”Grandma Aggie
Local attorney and arts patron Matthew Haines funded the wood carving after he felt a calling to have it made. Russell Beebe, of Anishinaabe Native heritage, was the sculptor (wood carver).
Grandma Aggie performed ceremonies for the tree and then the Prayer Pole, including at the original September 30, 2006 dedication. Within a few years, Beebe and Haines realized that the soft alder wood of the sculpture would deteriorate irreparably if it continued to be exposed to the elements for many years. There was only one way to save “We Are Here” — to move it indoors. But that meant losing this visible, public location for an artwork that honors Native people of the Rogue Valley.
Bronze sculpture artist Jack Langford was hired to make a bronze replica of the wood prayer pole. Because of the size and complexity of “We Are Here,” it took 55 small flexible molds to capture every detail of the wood. Each of the 55 flexible molds was transformed in a multistage process into heat-resistant fused silica molds. These were filled with molten bronze at 2,000 degrees F, after which the 55 bronze pieces had to be fit together seamlessly. The entire process took Langford nearly a year. The bronze replica was installed on North Main Street in May 2013.
“We Are Here” alder carving moved, December 18, 2012
Matthew Haines had asked Grandma Aggie’s permission for a bronze replica of “We Are Here” to replace the wood sculpture outdoors at the “Ashland Gateway” location. She said yes and suggested that the original wood statue be moved to the Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University. The City and University agreed, and the move took place on December 18, 2012.
As a photo description of that snowy morning put it: “A fresh snowfall caused the lifting crane to be one hour late. The schedule, planned to the minute, became completely irrelevant and we were on Indian time the rest of the day. It was a beautiful morning.”
The crane lowered it onto a huge steel-railed rolling dolly, where it was tightly chained on a flatbed truck for transport to SOU Hannon Library. I spoke with Dan Wahpepah, who coordinated the move. He said that “We Are Here” was strapped in the U-shaped dolly with come-alongs on both sides, so they had flexibility to maneuver the large statue through the library doors and then on to the new base installed in the library. Come-alongs are winches that incorporate ratchets for better control. Once in the library, it was bolted to a hinge on the concrete base and then lifted. Lifting it upright from the dolly took careful planning, clear guidance, chains, strong ropes, three wooden poles and many strong hands.
Wahpepah told me the move followed Native American traditions. With an important move, it is traditional to stop four times to honor the four directions. Assisting Wahpepah were community members and students of the SOU Native American Student Union.
A new base for “We Are Here” at library
A new base was created for the library location of the “We Are Here” wood prayer pole, beginning with a 5,000 pound foundation of concrete. After “We Are Here” was in place on this concrete, Jesse Biesanz began the process of adding a round dome of mortar and river rocks to complete the prayer pole base. He had a short window of time in January to complete the project, when students were on break.
He experimented with different colored mortar mixes to find a warm color that would complement the color of the wood. At the bottom, he began with rectangular stone. Then he inserted river rocks of various colors and sizes. Finally, he embedded four animals carved in sandstone at the four cardinal directions of the base.
A creation story on the base
The carvings on the base depict four animals from the Anishinaabe creation story. Russell Beebe, who carved the wood prayer pole, also carved the four animals in sandstone. Beebe is of Anishinaabe tribal heritage. You can read his description of the creation story on the wall of the library near “We Are Here.”
Carved wood benches for “We Are Here” at library
Beebe carved the three beautiful benches by the statue in Hannon Library from the trunk of one large pine tree. One is Bear, one is Cougar (or Mountain Lion) and one is Salmon.
Grandma Aggie wrote in her book: “Russell carved eight-foot benches for people to go and meditate or to have any type of classes there; they would have room. … So he has carved these big eight-foot benches around the spirit pole, and I thought that way people could come and pray, or you could have some sort of a program here about the tree where people could come and sit quietly or whatever.”
Symbolism in “We Are Here”
Here is a brief introduction to the animals and people carved in the “We Are Here” statue. For thousands of years, Southern Oregon tribes lived a sustainable lifestyle in balance with the land, animals and plants of the region. Because it was a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the local population remained small and spread out. Each tribal group had slightly different beliefs and ceremonies. However, all felt a kinship with the animals and plants they depended on for their survival. Russell Beebe brought that sense of kinship into his carving of “We Are Here.”
Grandma Aggie expressed the concept of kinship in her book. She wrote, “The First Nations include not only the Takelma, Shasta, Tututni and other tribes, but also the Salmon Nation, the Bear Nation, the Tree Nations, and all the species of life in this region.” She had a true “big picture” perspective embracing all of life.
Ashland’s North Mountain Park online pamphlet about local Native American history gives an insight into the importance of animals in their daily life. “Animal parts, including hides, fur, claws, hooves, teeth, bones and antlers were critical in the manufacture of needles, awls, wedges, fishhooks, digging stick handles, scrapers, bow strings, arrows quivers and ceremonial decorations, among other items.” This list doesn’t even mention that animals provided food, clothing and shelter for the people.
Here is a brief description and photo of each human and animal carved on the prayer pole.
Beebe told me that he only had room to represent two of the local tribes, and he chose the Takelma and the Shasta. The Takelma woman and Shasta man each have a child, who represent the future.
Takelma Woman and child
Russell Beebe used Grandma Aggie as a model for the Takelma woman. He carved her as she looked in her 30s, wearing her regalia clothing. Beebe told me with a laugh, “I got the blessing from her daughter Nadine. She came out one day and looked at my depiction of the 30-year-old [Aggie]. She said, ‘That’s mom.’ So I got it right.”
The Takelma people lived primarily along the Rogue River and to the south as far as what is now the Ashland area. They were a small tribe in the 1850s when settlers arrived in the Rogue Valley. However, they and other ancestral tribes had lived in the area for at least 10,000 years before they were forcibly removed in 1856 to the Siletz Reservation in northwest Oregon.
Grandma Aggie and many other Native Americans have moved back to Southern Oregon. This sweet photo taken at the original dedication of “We Are Here” in 2006 shows four generations of Grandma Aggie’s family.
Shasta Man and child
The Shasta people lived primarily in Northern California, though in their northern territory they shared the Bear Creek drainage (now the Ashland/Medford area) with Takelma bands. American settlers James Cardwell and Thomas Smith visited the Ashland area in the winter of 1851-1852. They described a Shasta winter village of perhaps 100 people along Ashland Creek, near the current location of Ashland Plaza.
With spring and summer warm weather, both Shasta and Takelma would spread out in smaller bands at higher elevations to hunt meat and gather wild foods. The two tribes fought at times, but also intermarried, traded and shared hunting grounds.
Canada geese are easy to see – and hear – in the Rogue Valley at certain times of the year. Geese and ducks were among the animal foods hunted and eaten by Rogue Valley Native Americans.
Deer provided food, clothing and tools. Shirts, hats, buckskin trousers, skirts and moccasins were all made from deer or elk.
According to Karen Rose in her 2002 essay, “The Takelma would light fires in the shape of a horseshoe to drive deer toward the bottom of the semi-circle where the women stood rattling deer bones and the men waited to shoot them. They also would use this method to drive the deer into elaborately constructed brush fences where they could be taken in snares. The Takelma also regularly burned their hunting area to produce better grass with which to attract wild game and maintain their habitat by reducing the underbrush.”
Edward Sapir gave another version of the Takelma deer hunt, writing that deer were often hunted by groups of men with the help of dogs. They would be driven towards a fenced area with traps to entangle the deer’s legs, so they could be killed. For long-term food storage, “hard dough-like cakes of the [deer] fat were put away for use in the winter.”
Bird in Grandma Aggie’s hand
The bird in Grandma Aggie’s hand represents her connection with nature and the web of life.
In her book, Grandma Aggie described the eagle. “Same way with the eagle. It’s a messenger. Long before Congress made it the national bird for us, our Native people throughout the land had already had the eagle that way because he could fly the highest and see the farthest and carry our messages to the Beloved. It was already one of our totems.”
“You know it’s unusual, but you know that the Creator let me know that we’re in the right place, doing the right thing. Like when they dedicated this mountain up here after me. Five eagles up there. Bless you, Grandfather. Whoa! That’s great.” Read more about the mountain dedication below in the section about Dragonfly.
Russell Beebe was given the honor of placing an Eagle feather high on “We Are Here” at the 2006 dedication. If you go see “We Are Here” in the SOU library, you will see an Eagle feather hanging from the Shasta man’s headband and several Red-Tailed Hawk feathers hanging from Grandma Aggie’s hand.
“Every place I have been around the world – I have traveled a lot – the dragonflies always come. I always say it is the Creator’s messengers.”Grandma Aggie
Sculptor Russell Beebe told me why there is a dragonfly on the prayer pole. “The dragonfly was put there just for Aggie, because the dragonfly is one of her spirit animals.” Grandma Aggie wrote in her book that “dragonflies have been a phenomenal thing in my life.” “Like when they named the mountain over here at Ashland Taowhywee Peak, there was dragonflies all over my head, and five eagles. Every place I have been around the world – I have traveled a lot – the dragonflies always come. I always say it is the Creator’s messengers.”
Taowhywee Point, elevation 3,707 feet, is located four miles to the northeast of Ashland. The peak was formally named for Pilgrim’s great-grandmother. In her book, Grandma Aggie explains who she was. “As I said, my Native name, Taowhywee, was given to me a long time ago through my great-grandmother Margaret, whose name was Morning Star. She was a great shaman of the Takelma people here in Southern Oregon.”
“In 2007, the [salmon] ceremony was moved to the place where it was held for thousands of years: the Tilomikh (Powerhouse Falls), on the Rogue River near Gold Hill, Oregon.”National Park Service website
The most important animal foods for Rogue Valley Native Americans were river fish such as salmon and trout. They were caught using nets, fishing lines made of plant fiber or long spears. Traditionally, ceremonies were conducted each year at the beginning of the salmon hunt.
We turn to Grandma Aggie once again. She was the driving force behind restoration of an ancient salmon ceremony. The National Park Service (NPS) website says in an article about the Takelma tribe: “In the 1970’s, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians began to reorganize. The confederation arose out of the tribes that had been relocated to the Siletz reservation as one, larger, intertribal group. Their first elected chief was George Harney, a full-blooded Takelma. George Harney’s granddaughter, Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, continues to educate others about her heritage.”
“In 1994, for the first time in over 140 years, an ancient ceremony took place to welcome and give thanks for the returning salmon, on the Kanaka Flats of the Applegate River. People of all heritages were welcomed at the annual Salmon Gathering on the Applegate River until 2006. In 2007, the ceremony was moved to the place where it was held for thousands of years: the Tilomikh (Powerhouse Falls), on the Rogue River near Gold Hill, Oregon. Since then, the ceremony has taken place annually in its traditional location, demonstrating that the Takelma culture is alive and will continue into the future.”
Bear provided food and clothing. Men’s fur hats were made of bear or deer heads, with the ears reportedly left on for decoration. Fur was used for clothing and wintertime blankets.
The bear is also a totem animal. Aggie again: “Like when I am really tired and how that bear medicine comes through. I think, god, I just can’t stay up another minute, but I do. So I attribute it to – it comes from the bear power.”
The native-languages.org website describes Coyote as “the trickster figure of the Takelma tribe. As in other Northwestern mythology, Takelma coyote stories range from light-hearted tales of mischief and buffoonery to more serious legends about the nature of the world.”
“Beaver are nature’s ecosystem engineers….”Aaron Hall
Beavers were once abundant in Oregon. Due to demand for beaver pelts in Europe and the Eastern United States, they were nearly trapped to extinction in the 1800s. They have now become reestablished along streams throughout the state.
Beavers are such an important part of a healthy stream ecosystem that Native Americans would have held them in high regard. According to aquatic biologist Aaron Hall, “Beaver are nature’s ecosystem engineers, felling trees and building dams, and changing waterways for their own benefit. But they also benefit other species in the process, including humans as well as many species that are now in jeopardy at least in part due to the historic loss of beavers. Their dams help to control the quantity and quality of water downstream, which both humans and animals use. Their ponds and flooded areas create habitat for many plants and animals, such as fish, birds, insects, and amphibians. In fact, some species only live near beaver ponds.”
When Beebe removed the bark, he was amazed to see a small companion alder tree winding its way up the old alder, almost like a vine. The snake was carved from this vine-like companion alder.
Dennis Gray wrote: “A number of animals were specifically not eaten by the Upland Takelma, such as porcupines, weasels, civet cats (either a spotted skunk or “ring-tailed” cat), screech owls, coyotes, wolves, eagles, snakes, and frogs. It was also stated that certain people would not eat bear meat (Drucker 1940:294). Most of the above mentioned animals, which were not eaten, were associated with supernatural spirits.” According to some sources, the rattlesnake was considered a guardian spirit, but possibly one that inclined people toward evil.
Cougar or Mountain lion
Like the beaver, mountain lions are an important part of the natural ecosystem. They were essential to keep the population of smaller animals in balance.
According to anthropological reports, they were also a minor part of the Shasta tribe diet. I imagine that most other animals were much easier to hunt and kill!
Raven spirit figure
Raven stories are found in many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, primarily along the coast. In many of the stories, Raven is involved in creation or in bringing light to the people.
I will let Grandma Aggie have the closing words, from her book Grandma Says: Wake Up World!. She wrote: “I felt very honored to work with Matthew Haines and Russell Beebe, and it was a great honor to be able to do this for our people, for the Old Ones. That’s why I wanted it – for them to be recognized in my background. It was a good feeling. The artist’s name and my name are there to this day. So there it stands, the carving in bronze. I feel very honored that, when I go to the Star Nation, that there will be that spirit pole because, as I say, Ashland is a threshold and there is nothing Native out there. Now we have the bronze that will show there were residents of First Nation people there. I feel very good to have it standing there.”
Grandma Aggie has now gone to the Star Nation. She will be missed. She will also be remembered whenever someone views the bronze “We Are Here” on North Main Street or the original alder wood “We Are Here” in the SOU library.
My heartfelt thanks go out to:
Grandma Aggie (Agnes Baker Pilgrim): Inspiration for “We Are Here.” (1924 – 2019)
Russell Beebe: Wood carver of the original alder tree “We Are Here” prayer pole.
Jack Langford: Artist of the “We Are Here” bronze replica.
Lloyd Matthew Haines: He felt the calling for “We Are Here” to be created, then funded both the original wood carving and the bronze replica.
The First Nations Old Ones who lived in this area for thousands of years.
Everyone who helped make “We Are Here” possible in both of its forms.
Those who generously talked with me, shared their photos with me, or reviewed the article for me. They are listed in “References” below.
Part 1 of this series of articles about “We Are Here” described the creation of the original wood carving prayer pole, and its dedication on September 30, 2006.
Part 2 of this series of articles about “We Are Here” described the bronze replica that was crafted and now stands on North Main Street.
References for Parts 1, 2 and 3:
Aldous, Vickie. “Downtown sculpture to be cast in bronze,” Ashland Tidings, April 18, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)
Aldous, Vickie. “Native people sculpture will move to SOU,” Ashland Tidings, November 3, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)
Anon. “Native Americans of the Rogue Valley,” North Mountain Park Nature Center, Ashland Parks and Recreation Department, Version 4: May 2010.
Anon. “We Are Here,” Book Marks, Hannon Library Newsletter, Volume 24, No. 1, Fall 2013.
Anon. “Takelma Tribe,” NPS.gov.(accessed January 10, 2021) https://www.nps.gov/orca/learn/historyculture/takelma-tribe.htm
Anon. “Takelma Legends,” native-languages.org website. (accessed January 17, 2021)
Ayers, Jane. “‘Grandma Aggie’ leaves a lasting impact,” Ashland Tidings, December 3, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)
Beebe, Russell. Interview and personal communication, June 2, 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Russell, for sharing your photos with me.
Beebe, Russell. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
Bernhagen, Jaimie. “‘We Are Here’ Event with Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” Red Earth Descendants website, October 14, 2012. (accessed May 21, 2020)
Biesanz, Jesse. Interview and personal communication, August 2020.
Cardwell, James, “Southern Oregon Pioneers,” Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, July 8, 1882, page 3, from http://truwe.sohs.org/files/cardwell.html
Darling, John. “‘Grandma Aggie’ dies at 95,” Ashland Tidings, November 27, 2019. (accessed May 21, 2020)
Doty, Thomas. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
Gray, Dennis J. “The Takelma and Their Athapascan Neighbors,” University of Oregon Anthropological Papers, No. 37, 1987.
Haines, Lloyd Matthew. Interview and personal communication, May 13, 2020 and other dates.
Hall, Aaron. “Exploring with Beavers, Nature’s Ecosystem Engineers,” Defenders of Wildlife website, September 28, 2016.
Kuiryamf. “‘We Are Here’ statue relocated to Hannon Library,” The Siskiyou, January 15, 2013. (accessed May 14, 2020)
Langford, Jack. Interview and personal communication, May 20, 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Jack, for allowing my wife and me to be present at a bronze casting.
Martin, Nadine. Many thanks for reviewing the articles.
Norman, Julie. Interview and personal communication, August 2020 and other dates. Thank you, Julie, for sharing your photos and videos with me.
Paris-Stamm, Glen. 31-minute Video. “Artist on Your Doorstep presents: Jack Langford, Sculptor, ‘We Are Here'(prayer pole now in bronze),” City of Ashland website. (accessed January 18, 2021)
Also available directly on YouTube
Pilgrim, Agnes Baker (Taowhywee). Grandma Says: Wake Up World, Blackstone Publishing, 2015.
Pilgrim, Agnes Baker. Website. (accessed May 14, 2020)
Rose, Karen. May 25, 2002. “Takelma Indians: An Essay on Native Americans in the Rogue River Area,” Hugo Neighborhood Association & Historical Society, Hugo, OR. For the entire essay, go to http://www.hugoneighborhood.org/takelma.htm
Sapir, Edward. “Notes on the Takelma Indians of Southwestern Oregon,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 9, No. 2, April-June, 1907.
Valencia, Mandy. “We Are Here,” Ashland Daily Tidings, December 21, 2012.
Valencia, Mandy. 5-minute Video. “We Are Here Dedication Ceremony,” Ashland Tidings website, May 24, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
Valencia, Mandy. 4-minute Video. Russell Beebe carving eyes in the bronze We Are Here statue, Ashland Tidings website, April 2, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
Valencia, Mandy. 3-minute Video. Color heating of the We Are Here bronze statue (Jack Langford and Russell Beebe), Ashland Tidings website, April 15, 2013. (accessed January 18, 2021)
Wahpepah, Dan. Interview, August 10, 2020.
Young, James Royce. James took many of the photos from the creation of “We Are Here” in both wood and bronze, as well as photos of the 2006 dedication and the 2012 move to SOU Hannon Library. I thank James for sharing so many of his photos with me.