Tall Tales

Madrone Monkeys

A Rogue River Tall Tale

As told by Captain Tim Brueckner

Collected by S.E. Schlosser

Something people often ask about, and you might be curious also, are the trees you see along the river with the kind of yellowish orange trunk, skin-like bark.  They look like someone has been peeling the bark off of them. 

Those are called Madrone trees, and what gives them that appearance is that’s actually what happens to those trees.  The brittle outer bark of the Madrone tree is deftly peeled away, on a regular basis, by the Madrone monkeys that live along the river.  Now, Madrone monkeys are not indigenous to the south coast.  Where you find them historically, is in the vast rain forests, that is, the jungles of the Amazon river basin, where they have flourished for eons, subsisting on the nutrient rich outer bark of the Madrone tree, until as of late – where you read so much in the paper, and see on TV, about the heavy clear cutting – the deforestation – of those wonderful jungles, to the point that there is a real potential to lose this species to extinction through loss of habitat.

So, in order to preserve a remnant of that gene pool, they have captured several colonies – several breeding communities of these Madrone monkeys and moved them here, to this south coast corridor of the Rouge River, which not incidentally, is the only other place where this particular subspecies of Madrone tree exists, upon which these monkeys can subsist.  And they’ve done very well…

Now, you don’t see the monkeys because they’re nocturnal.  In other words, all their work is done at night.  But you certainly see the evidence of their participation in this ecosystem as we travel up and down the river.

It’s a pretty big deal…

Look at the surface of the water.  Do you see that foam line?  Have you noticed how these foam lines develop from time to time along the river?  Well, this again indicates the presence of Madrone monkeys. See, Madrone monkeys are a highly developed system of primates.  And as is almost always the case, in upper level primates, they will identify for themselves – each group, each community – a dominant male.  And it’s kind of interesting how the Madrone monkeys do this.  In fact, they have studied this, behavioral scientists have, back at Cornell University, in hopes of unlocking some of the mysteries of our own political systems.

It seems then, that each evening, those mature males vying for dominance, will stand on a branch overhanging the river, and tinkle out into the river.  Now, the monkey which can tinkle farthest into the river, becomes by consensus then, the dominant male until supplanted by a contender.

I thought that was interesting…

Now, not all the foam is from the monkeys of course.  Some of it’s just fish sweat.  These salmon and steelhead working so hard to get up river on their annual migrations – often times their sweat will collect on top and mix with what the monkeys have done.  But I just wanted to share that with you because we’re so proud to be a part of something as significant as saving these rare and endangered Madrone monkeys.

Oh, I know, I was telling some people about the monkeys the other day and their behaviors, and one lady said she didn’t believe me.

I asked her, “How come?”

And she said, “Because everybody knows, there’s no such thing as a “mature” male." 

Kind of hard to argue…

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Schlosser, author of the Spooky Series

About the Author: S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser is the author of the Spooky Series by Globe Pequot Press, as well as the Ghost Stories deck by Random House.  She has been telling stories since she was a child, when games of "let's pretend" quickly built themselves into full-length tales acted out with friends. A graduate of both Houghton College and the Institute of Children's Literature, Sandy received her MLS from Rutgers University while working as a full-time music teacher and a freelance author. Read more

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