In 1853 and 1854, hundreds of Tolowa Indians were slaughtered by members of local white militia at the villages of Yan’-daa-k’vt (Yontocket) and Ee-chuu-le (Etchulet) near what are now called Lake Earl and Lake Tolowa.
The annual vigil commemorates members of the Tolowa tribe killed in the 1850s. Del Norte Triplicate file / Adam Spencer
A candlelight vigil commemorating the 1854 massacre at ‘Ee-chuu-le’ Village and honoring Tolowa Dee-ni’ (people) ancestors will take place Friday.
The vigil is open to the public and those wishing to attend are asked to meet at 3:30 p.m. at the Lake Earl Wildlife Area Information Center, 2591 Old Mill Road, where a shuttle will be provided to ‘Ee-chuu-le.’
This year marks the 160th anniversary of the 1853 massacre at Yan’-daa-k’vt, which the tribe describes as the second-largest in American history, when more than 450 Tolowa people were killed during the long-held annual world renewal ceremony of Nee-Dash. Yan’-daa-k’vt, located within present-day Tolowa Dunes State Park, is considered to be the Tolowas’ genesis place, the center of their spiritual world.
After the village of Yan’-daa-k’vt was burned, the tribe founded a new village between present-day Lake Earl and Lake Tolowa called Ee-chuu-le, meaning large land peninsula, and the 1854/1855 Nee-Dash ceremony, which starts on the winter solstice and lasts 10 days, was held there instead.
But again, white settlers descended on the gathering to murder at least a hundred Tolowa Indians.
From 1851 to 1856, around 8,000 Tolowa people were killed, then another 1,834 were marched to a reservation, which was more like a concentration camp, in Oregon, said Loren Bommelyn, the cultural leader of the tribe.
Following the vigil, refreshments will be served at the Lake Earl Wildlife Area Center, including ’es-day (tea), k’aa-be (coffee), taa-svlh (homemade soups) and baa-shuk (bread).
Candles will be provided and the event will be held rain or shine. Participants are advised to wear warm clothing and rain boots and bring a chair and umbrella.
For more information, call the Smith River Rancheria tribal office at 707-487-9255, ext. 3176.
The vigil is sponsored by the rancheria and hosted by Tolowa Dunes Stewards and Redwood Parks Association.