to Francesca Fryer's SANDSPIT
by Gary Schmechl, November 1999
(excerpted from his longer essay)
Schmechl, poet, painter and translator, born in Eureka California,
resides in Seattle, Washington. His manuscript of translations
of The Songs and Ballads of Absence by Miguel Hernandez,
the famous Spanish poet is currently under consideration by
the University of Iowa Press
is above all, a human history, told from a personal viewpoint,
which incorporates a broader historical perspective...lt is an
awe inspiring, profoundly insightful, sprawling, beautifully written,
heartfelt, nonlinear historical narrative. lts structure... in
the words of the author is “a patterned and plotted tapestry:
one which unrolls back and forth in time...” One which broadens
out from its beginning with Francesca’s initial visit to the sandspit
in 1964. As she states, she was hardly aware of the tremendous
overtones this event carried for her life as she walked out onto
the sandspit, paid the entry fee and encountered the salmon-fishing
frenzy of the early sports fishermen crowding the estuary shoreline.
on which she focuses... revolve out of the thematic axis of historical
Indian/White encounters in the Klamath River area of California’s
northernmost stretch of coastline.
start off with a historical tale about a unique young woman, Sa-as-mel’or,
who divides her life between two villages, two families. She was
someone who “travelled-between”.... This tale then operates as
the metaphorical background for the intertwinings and interactions
- the “encounters” of all the major figures of the book, who all
end up “travelling-between” the two vastly different cultural
and spiritual worlds of the Indians and Whites that lived and
who came to settle near the Klamath River area.
fall into two categories. The first is that of the Participants
of whom there are four: Haaganors, or Captain Spott, “the last
high Indian on the Klamath River”, his adopted son, Robert Spott,
called the “Yurok Intellectual”; Alfred Kroeber, the famed Californian
anthropologist, who worked with the Spotts in his ground-breaking
research of Yurok ways; and Harry Roberts, a Whiteman adopted
as a boy by Robert Spott and his sister Alice, and ultimately
chosen by Robert Spott to carry Yurok tribal knowledge into the
future so it would not die. The interaction of these four men
is of central importance... for from them and through them much
of what is known and remembered of an entirely oral culture is
bequeathed to us today, though not without its attendant controversy
and turmoil, as is revealed in Sandspit also...
category is the Witnesses, five people
of central influence and importance in the lives of the Participants.
These Witnesses are Ruth Roberts, Harry’s mother; Florence Shaughnessy.
a wise woman of mixed-descent; Frank Douglas, “one of the last
tribal singers”; and Sam and Audrey Jones, a mixed couple who
played a large role in the defense and preservation of Yurok rights.
Sam Jones. a full-blood Yurok, became one of the central figures
in the Yurok battles to retain their traditional hunting, fishing,
and land rights - and by extension a central figure in the struggle
of all California Indians to retain such rights. Audrey, his White
wife, became known as the "Weitchpec Lawyer" by the
Yurok for her stubborn and dedicated defense of native rights.
of course, we are left with the role of Francesca
Fryer herself in all these complex interactions. She is both
Participant and Witness. She is a Participant because she has
shouldered the burden of Harry Roberts Promise to Robert Spott:
to see that the knowledge he had been given be written down and
not lost for all time. This... also makes her a Witness to all
the history and people involved...
main base lies in the interaction between the human and the non-human
worlds as shown by the interplay between the different human groups
and the geographical location in which they live - the Klamath
River Estuary and its famous Sandspit, which becomes the controlling
image for the entire work, emblematic of the human/non-human interactions,
which, like the sandspit itself, are never in the same place from
year to year, but shaped and shifted into unknown configurations
- sometimes beautiful and beneficial, sometimes tragic, demeaning,
and destructive - by tides, winds, floods; by seasonal hunting,
fishing and gathering activities; by economic, political, and
social forces and decisions...
Sandspit books... are important to our society in general and
to our understanding of the Native peoples of Northern California.
I believe them to be some of the most important and pertinent
historical books about California that have been written in the
late 20th century...Her work and her achievement deserve greater
recognition and praise, for she has struggled long and hard to
see that this unique history of an obscure corner of the western
United States does not pass into oblivion. I urge you to take
the journey these books open before you. Your life will be richer
Side-Bar & On-line transcription of Chapter 1
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