Agnes Baker Pilgrim
Agnes Emma Baker Pilgrim is a Native American spiritual elder from Grants Pass, Oregon. She is the oldest member of her tribe, the Takelma.
Agnes Emma was the seventh of nine children born to George Wentworth Baker and Eveline Lydia Harney Baker on September 11, 1924 in Lodgson, Oregon, on a tribal allotment near the headwaters of the Siletz River. The midwife was her mother’s mother, Elizabeth Juliana Tole Harney.
Aggie grew up close to the Earth with her brothers and sisters, gathering greens, picking blackberries and apples, riding horses, fishing and gardening: “At first we were given four plants to take care of. When I was old enough to go to school, I was responsible for four rows.” Her family lived without electricity. They had chickens, milk cows, sheep, longhorn cattle and horses, canned lots of fruit every fall, and there were plenty of eels in the creek, so they never went hungry. Remembering the sounds of her family talking and laughing around the kitchen table always makes her happy. The Takelma language was spoken in her home, but not encouraged outside it. Always independent, as a teenager Aggie insisted on dancing traditionally in her buckskin dress, even though this was banned by her Catholic church. She graduated from Taft High School in Lincoln City, Oregon in 1942, where she played six string guitar, piano, and organ.
Over the next years she pursued a wide variety of careers, including hiking far into the woods to gather cascara bark and other wild plants, singing in a band, being a bouncer at a nightclub and a barber in a jail, driving a log truck and setting chokers for the logging of old-growth trees, racing stockcars, working as a scrub nurse at a hospital and managing a restaurant. She also fished a lot, and hunted deer and elk. During this time she was married three times and had three sons and three daughters, so that she now has 18 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-granddaughter.
Around 1970 she made a major shift in her life, deciding to finally take on the spiritual path that she had always felt calling her, and taking on the medicine name of her Takelma great-grandmother, “Taowhywee,” or Morningstar. Please read the story, From Grandma Aggie, for her description of the changes that took place at this time.
From 1974 to 1989 Aggie worked as a manager and counselor at the United Indian Lodge in Crescent City, California. One main focus was alcohol-related problems, prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation. Another focus was helping the children of poor families. During this time she also received criminal justice training. In the early 1980’s she was asked to join the Cultural Heritage and Sacred Lands Committee of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz. She enrolled in Southern Oregon State College, where she joined the Omicron Delta Kappa sorority, majored in Psychology with a minor in Native American Studies, and graduated with a B.A. in 1985.