It's common to have historical events which we know happened but left no records. But sometimes, we have historical records where we have no idea what the event they record was.
In the following pages, I offer two examples from Oregon history where we have the record of an event but I have absolutely no idea what happened.
From Indian Relics of the Pacific Northwest by N.G. Seaman p73:
We tell you this story, briefly, making no attempt to repeat the Indian's language or many signs. It was told us by a middle aged Indian who asked us, in all seriousness, if our people knew of any such stones of if we thought this could be true.
In the long time ago the Teninos found a round stone about a foot in diameter that gave off light. They set it up in the village, and it lighted the camp at night. The Wishum Indians across the river became very envious, and one night a party of them came across and tried to steal the stone. They got away with it after quite a battle. Some time later the Teninos gathered together their warriors, and crossing over in the night, recovered the stone. Then again, the Wishums came over in force, defeated the Teninos and took the stone.
By this time the small tribe of Teninos had lost so many men, they could not attempt to fight for their rock, so a small party crossed over on a stormy night and tried to steal it. They had almost reached their canoe with it when the Wishums discovered them. A scuffle took place, and the stone rolled into the river. The water was very deep there, and the Indians could not get the stone out. All summer it lay there in the deep water throwing off its light; but with the next flood, it washed away and was never found again.
And this one from Oregon's Flamboyant Fourth 1876 by Doris Huffman p129:
There was a strange happening about 10 pm. Monday night, June 12. After a hard day's work at this shop, Prof. George Hughes and his wife stood on their front porch at the summit of the hill west of Portland. Looking toward East Portland, they observed a peculiar meteor-like object in the sky. Hughes' first impression was that it was a skyrocket or fireworks, but his closer observation dismissed that notion. June 13, 1876 the Morning Oregonian recorded this description of the event:
...first came a bright star-like object apparently several feet in diameter. Following this globe of fire came a long train of lesser lights resembling sparks, and at the extreme end of the little stars came a large ball of fire similar to the one which was leading the van. From one globe to the other appeared to be about 200 feet, and the intervening space was filled with the smaller stars spoken of closely resembling those following in the wake of a rocket. When first observed, the lights were opposite the residence of Uncle Jimmy Stephens (East Portland) about the level where Hughes was standing.
They were moving with celerity of the common rocket in direction parallel with the earth's surface. The forward and rear stars were moving uniformly along, also those intervening as if all were attached to a line. The lights moved straight on until reaching a point opposite Albina they all suddenly disappeared as quickly as one snuffs out a candle. There was no noise made by this singular phenomenon. Professor Hughes says it could not possibly have been any kind of fireworks. About one minute elapsed between the appearance and disappearance of this remarkable spectacle.
The easiest path is to dismiss both narratives as nothing more than stories. This world is full of stories about fairy kingdoms and fire-breathing dragons, but that does not mean that such things exist. The Indian tale is especially interesting. It is so concrete in the details and so different from the usual Indian tale. The Portland story is a little easier to dismiss. Burning trash carried by the breeze, and they drank a lot and took some pretty serious drugs in those days. So most likely nothing but an active imagination is both cases. And yet..
I think it is significant that in both cases these bits were side notes in a book about something else altogether. It makes me wonder how many other things like this are in plain sight but overlooked and forgotten because we have no category for them?
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