Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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I walk along the creek, remembering my teachers and their stories. So many times I sat and listened and took it all in. I pause where the creek slows into a deep pool, circles a large rock, and then tumbles toward the sea.

Me and my older brother -- and my mother! -- had the same first grade teacher, Mrs. Weaver. She was starting out when Mom was in first grade at Independence School. And she was getting ready to retire when I attended Roosevelt School.

But even before Mrs. Weaver, my childhood teachers were my grandmother who told me Old Time stories, my mother who gently nudged me into music and writing, and my father who took me walking and camping throughout the rugged mountains of southern Oregon, where I still live.

Years later, as I began telling stories, I met Chuck Jackson, Cow Creek elder and tribal chair. Bit by bit, as I journeyed through native stories, other teachers appeared: Agnes Baker Pilgrim (Takelma), Bernice Mitchell (Wasco and Northern Paiute), Caraway George (Shasta), Jim Martin (Nez Perce), John Kelly (Haida), Edison Chiloquin (Klamath)....

Chuck lived near Drew in the homeland of his ancestors, a valley in the shadow of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide. I spent hours sitting in his living room listening to stories. Sometimes we'd walk in the woods, or to his museum to look at artifacts. This was a one-room log cabin that served for years as the Tison School. After the school closed, Chuck moved it down the ridge to his home and made it into an Indian museum. School kids visited frequently. I wasn't the only one learning from Chuck!

After Mrs. Weaver left Independence School, she had several teaching stints before she settled in for a long career at Roosevelt. She taught at schools in Medford, Talent and in a couple of rural schools in southern Douglas County, including the one-room Tison School.

A few years ago, I had a dream that all of my teachers gathered in Chuck's museum, and we talked day and night about the art of native storytelling. When I woke up, I scribbled my dream into a story.

This morning along the creek, I speak the words of that story out loud. Perhaps someday, a budding storyteller will pause by this deep pool, sit quietly for a spell, and hear the words.

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Photo: Tison School after Chuck Jackson moved it to his property and turned it into a museum.