Redwood Canoe

The redwood canoe in the Trinidad Museum was hand-carved from the trunk of a redwood tree by Axel Lindgren Jr., a prominent and well-loved member of the Trinidad community, and a direct descendant of Charles and Eliza Lindgren. Eliza Lindgren was the last recognized medicine woman of Tsurai village. Axel constructed this canoe for the Trinidad Museum Society to educate the community about Yurok life in Tsurai.

This canoe weighs 800 pounds. It was built in the horse field near the museum along Main Street between the years 1986 and 1989, when it was finished and launched during the annual Fish Festival. It was constructed in the open air so that Axel could interact with and teach anyone wishing to come by and ask questions. This canoe was carved from a quarter of a large redwood log, with the hardest heartwood on the bottom to help keeping it structurally sound. The log was generously donated by Simpson Timber Company.

True to tradition, this canoe is anthropomorphic. The two knobs in the belly of the canoe are its kidneys, the notches are its ribs, the main knob is its heart, and it has a necklace and nose at the front of the canoe. Traditional Yurok canoes merit much respect, and have much personality. When the carving was finished, Axel piled the wood chips in the bottom of the canoe and burned them in the traditional way, to purify it and smooth things out inside.

Redwood canoes such as this were an important part of daily life in Yurok territory until the past century brought many changes. They were used to harvest coastal shellfish, salmon, ling cod, seals, sea lions, and otters. The blunted ends of the canoe allowed sailors to paddle straight to islands or sea rocks and climb on and off the canoe without damaging it. The canoes were used for trade and transport along the shoreline and throughout the numerous rivers. They were, and are still today, used in important dances and ceremonies such as the White Deerskin Dance.

The construction of this canoe by Axel was mentioned in many newspaper and journal articles including:

The Union, Arcata, Sept. 5 1986
North Coast Today, Sept. 7, 1986
Times Standard, Sept. 7 1986
The Union, Arcata, Dec. 5, 1986
San Francisco Examiner, Jan. 21, 1987
Times Standard,Eureka, Feb. 18, 1987
Times Standard, Eureka, April 5, 1987
Times Standard, Sept. 16, 1987
The Union, March 18, 1988
News From Native California, Sept./Oct. 1988
The Union, June 16 1989
Times Standard, June 9, 1991

Axel made three other similar canoes. One of them is kept in the Southwestern Museum/Gene Autry Museum in Los Angeles. Another remains at Sumeg village in Patrick’s Point State Park. The third remained in the family.

Patrick Duerr, TMS Intern, 2018