Long before the European invasion of North America, a number of autonomous, independent, and linguistically related peoples lived in contiguous territories in what would become the state of Washington. These peoples included the Yakama, Kittitas, Klikitat (also spelled Klickitat), Tainapam, and Wanapam. In 1855, the United States government forced a treaty on these people, grouping them together on what would become the Yakama Reservation and later forming the Consolidated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark made its way down the lower Columbia River. This area, from Celilo Falls near the present-day Oregon city of The Dalles, to the Wapato Valley (the Portland Basin), to the mouth of the river, was inhabited by numerous Chinookan-speaking Indian nations. The many villages along the river were linked through trade and through intermarriage. As Lewis and Clark traveled along the lower Columbia River, they found that villages and towns were numerous.
The lower course of the Columbia River and the Pacific Coast adjacent to its mouth have changed significantly over time. During the past 5,000 years dunes have formed, creating a ridged topography. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins, in their book Oregon Archaeology, explain: “The Clatsop Plains is a ridged landform of stabilized dune sand stretching between the Columbia River and Tillamook Head. The sand derives primarily from Columbia River sediment that is returned to the outer coast due to high energy waves.”
Earl Dune Site:
American Indians first began using the Earl Dune site (35CLT66) about 1,350 years ago. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report: “The initial occupation appears to have been on an open sandy beach on the ocean side of the dunes, where marine fishes (primarily hake and sculpin) were harvested, and razor clams were opportunistically collected.”
Occupation of Earl Dune site was short-term. As the dune accumulated more sand, occupation of the site became less frequent and use of the site ended about 1,200 years ago.
The Palmrose site (35CLT47) is located at the southern end of the Clatsop Plains. The site was first occupied about 3,900 years ago and by 2,700 years ago the people had constructed a large rectangular plank house. This is the earliest plank house known on the southern Northwest Coast Culture Area. This house was approximately 6 meters (20 feet) wide and at least 12 meters (40 feet) long. The house was probably similar to the plank houses that early European and American explorers saw in the area.
The Palmrose site was a permanent site and is characterized by a large shell midden. The people who lived here were harvesting horse clam, butter clam, and littleneck clam. Archaeologists also found evidence of 23 species of birds, 23 species of fish, and 14 species of mammals. The remains of mammals included both sea mammals (whales, sea otters, sea lions, and fur seals) and land mammals (deer and elk were most common). In general, it appears that sustenance was largely based on marine and littoral resources.
With regard to tools, the archaeologists found a variety of projectile points, atlatl weights, mortars, stone mauls, antler digging stick handles, antler splitting wedges, composite bone harpoon points, and shark-tooth pendants.
Archaeologists also found a number of carved bone and antler artifacts with motifs similar to those found farther north. C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report: “These similarities show clearly that close contacts were being maintained over great distances up and down the coast by 2,700 years ago. These ancient connections may be a factor in the presence of Salish languages in Oregon, which otherwise dominate the Washington and southern British Columbia coasts to the north.”
The Palmrose site was abandoned about 1,600 years ago.
Indian people were occupying the Par-Tee site (35CLT20) near present-day Seaside, Oregon by about 1,400 years ago. The people were exploiting sea mammals as well as fish and shellfish. They were also hunting elk. Some of their tools were made out of modified whale bones. Houses at this site appear to have been circular.
Avenue Q Site:
While Indian people first began occupying the Avenue Q site (35CLT13) about 3,500 years ago, the most intense period of occupation was between 1,700 years ago and 1,000 years ago. In modern times, the site’s shell midden, which was about 10 feet deep, was mined to obtain material for road building.
Indian people at this site had a subsistence focus on marine environments. Fish, particularly halibut, lingcod, and cabezon, predominate. Among the mammal bones found by archaeologists at the site, 73% were from marine mammals (sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and whales).
Eddy Point and Ivy Station:
About 25 miles upstream from present-day Astoria are the Eddy Point (35CLT33) and Ivy Station (25CLY34) sites. Both of these date back about 3,000 years. While deer and elk bone was common at both sites, there were also some harbor seal bones. Archaeologists also uncovered evidence of fish (salmon, sucker, sturgeon, and marine fishes), waterfowl (swan, duck, goose), and marine shellfish. While archaeologists found no evidence of house structures, they feel that both of these were village sites.
At the Meir site (35CO5) archaeologists uncovered the remains of a large Chinook-style plank longhouse. It is estimated to have been 14 meters wide and 35 meters long. Radiocarbon dating shows that it was initially constructed about 700 years ago and that it remained occupied until historic times. The archaeological data shows that the main wall and roof support members had been shored up and/or replaced about eight to ten times during the life of the house.
Down the center of the house were a series of formal boxed hearths. The ethnographic record shows that each of these hearths would have served from two to four related families. Houses of this type were generally occupied by several related families. Each family would have a bedroom area which was a platform attached to the outside wall.
The longhouse at the Meier site had storage pits or cellars along both sides of the hearth area. These pits had been dug, filled, and re-dug many times during the centuries that the house had been occupied. When in use, the pits were probably covered by flooring planks. With regard to the archaeological evidence in the pits, C. Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly, and Dennis L. Jenkins report: “The pits yielded an abundance of fire-cracked rock and tens of thousands of bone fragments from elk, deer, salmon, sturgeon, and other animals, the remains of food that was stored, cooked, and eaten in the house.”
When Lewis and Clark journeyed through the Lower Columbia River area, they encountered the village of Cathlapotle which was across the river from the Meier site in what is now the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in the state of Washington. They reported that this was a large village with about 14 houses and a population of about 900. Archaeological investigation of the site began in 1991 and continued until 1996. Dating shows that the site was occupied from the mid-1400s until the 1840s.
The archaeologists found six house sites in two parallel rows on a ridge above the river’s high water level. The houses ranged from 60 feet to 200 feet in length and from 24 feet to 36 feet in width.
As with the longhouse at the Meier site, archaeologists found large storage pits or cellars in the longhouse sites. Some of these were six feet deep and when the houses were occupied, they would have been beneath the sleeping platforms that lined the walls.
With regard to the Cathlapotle site, Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, report: “So long as a site is not threatened by disturbance, such as from land development or erosion, today’s archaeologists deliberately study only part of it. They leave the rest for the future, a time sure to have new insights, new investigative techniques, and new research questions.”
As the ice age was ending in North America, a new hunting technology arose. This technology, commonly known as Clovis after a find in New Mexico, is characterized by a finely made stone projectile point with a characteristic flute which helps in attaching the point to an atlatl dart.
One of the principle weapons used by the Clovis hunters was the atlatl. The atlatl is a wooden shaft with a hook at one end and a handle at the other. The butt of the spear is engaged by the hook. Grasping the handle and steadying the spear shaft with the fingers, the spear can be hurled with great force. Archaeologist L.S. Cressman, in his book The Sandal and the Cave: The Indians of Oregon, notes: “Thus the atlatl was in principle an extension of the arm and, by the added leverage, gave much greater power to the thrust of the spear.”
Archaeologist Sandra Morris, in her M.A. professional paper at the University of Montana, summarizes Clovis this way: “Clovis represents a terminal ice-age human adaptation characterized by a hunting technology displaying distinctive, fluted spearpoints and carved bone and ivory shafts.”
The Plateau Culture Area is the area between the Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountains in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and Western Montana. In 1987, a number of Clovis points were discovered below the surface in an apple orchard in East Wenatchee, Washington. As in the case of many major archaeological discoveries, these points were discovered accidently by workers installing a new irrigation system. Recognizing that this might be an important find, professional archaeologists were called in.
The land was owned by Mack Richey and the orchard was managed by his brother-in-law Rich Roberts, and thus the site became known as the Richey-Roberts Clovis Site. Excavation rights were sold to the State of Washington. The scientific excavation of the site was observed by members of the Colville Confederated Tribes as well as the news media.
The initial find at the Richey-Roberts site included 29 items, among which were five large stone points and three short bone rods. To discover more about the site and its overall size, the archaeologists brought in ground-penetrating radar. The radar located a cluster of seven large Clovis points. These points were about twice as large as those found in association with animal remains.
Unlike artifact “collectors” (better described as “looters”) who remove artifacts to display them or sell them, archaeologists pay close attention to the context in which the artifacts are found. At the East Wenatchee site, archaeologists noted that the undersides some of the points had sandy crusts. These crusts detracted from the fine flaking of the points, but provided an important dating clue. A geologist, Dr. Nick Foit, identified the silica in the crusts as originating from a Glacier Peak volcanic eruption. This eruption occurred about 13,000 years ago. The Clovis points had lain on top of the ash when it was still fresh enough to crusts on the points. This meant that the site was somewhat younger than 13,000 years.
The blade surfaces were checked for traces of blood or other animal protein and on one large biface researchers found evidence of both bison and deer. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, explain the findings: “This does not necessarily prove hunting. Residual proteins have many sources. They can come from the leather of a storage pouch, the leather protecting the toolmaker’s hands, from sinew used for hafting, or from blood, hair, or hoof glue in the hafting mastic.”
One of the puzzles from the site was the large Clovis points. In terms of size, the only other Clovis points of this large size were found at the Anzick rockshelter site in Montana. The Anzik site was a burial site and the large Clovis points appear to have been grave offerings. At East Wenatchee, there was no burial, but there are traces of red ochre on one of the points. Red ochre was generally used ceremonially and thus one of the questions about these points is: Were these large Clovis points ceremonial offerings?
One of the ways archaeologists study stone tools is with the aid of a scanning electron microscope. This allows them to see the wear patterns on the blade which provides information about how they were used. The large Clovis points, however, show no wear patterns, an indication that they were never used. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty ask: “Was this a cache intended for later retrieval or were the showy points placed as a ritual offering?”
Use of caches is common among nomadic hunting and gathering people. Since goods and weight are oppressive when you are moving regularly on foot, items which will not be needed at the next resource collection area can be cached and then retrieved when the group returns to the area. Writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology, David Meltzer reports: “Befitting wide-ranging hunter-gatherers who lacked animal transport and were able to carry only limited provisions, they often cached stone for later use.”
With regard to the large size, experimental archaeology has shown that the Clovis points frequently break when they are used. They are then re-flaked into usable points which are smaller than the originals. Instead of ceremonial offerings, it could simply be that the large points are unused points which have not yet been broken and re-flaked.
One of the artifacts uncovered at a number of other Clovis sites are bone rods. At the Richey-Roberts site more than a dozen bone rods were found. There is some speculation that these rods, if fitted with antler tips, could have been used as flaking tools. No antler tips, however, were found with the rods.
Excavation at the Richey-Roberts site stopped in 1990. The location of artifacts was marked with copper cutouts, a sheet of protective geofabric was placed over the site, and it was covered with soil so that the apple trees could be replanted. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty write: “Without knowing the exact location, no one now would recognize that particular section of the orchard as an important archaeological site.”
The items excavated at the Richey-Roberts site were donated to the Washington State Historical Society.
The Hoko River originates in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains (Washington State) and flows for about 25 miles to the Pacific Ocean. It flows into the Strait of Juan de Fuca about 16 miles east of the Makah town of Neah Bay. By 3,000 years ago, the Makah were using the area around the mouth of the river for a wide range of sea, river, and forest resources. The Hoko River Archaeological Complex is composed of three site areas: (1) a riverbank wet site, (2) dry campsites adjacent to the wet site, and (3) a rock shelter at the mouth of the river.
The Hoko River sites first came to the attention of archaeologists in 1967 when people reported to Washington State University that they were finding artifacts in the area. An archaeological survey found that a large site ran some 600 feet along the river and that much of the site had already slumped into the river. Full-scale investigation, however, did not begin until 1977. Initial financial support was provided by the Makah Tribal Council and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Some additional support was provided by Jean Auel, the author of a series of archaeological-based novels.
Wet sites provide some interesting challenges for archaeologists. Writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, Gary Wessen from the Makah Cultural and Research Center describes the Hoko River wet site:“Most of the wet site is situated within the range of tidal fluctuations, and much of it can only be examined during low tides.”
Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, describe the problems in working with the wet site: “Excavation entailed pumping water from the river and spraying it out through garden hoses to gently wash artifacts free from the riverbank mud that held them. Conventional troweling, no matter how careful, might damage a wooden or fiber artifact before it could be noticed.”
Wet sites, however, have an advantage as the artifacts have stayed wet for millennia and have been spared from decay. Once they are excavated from the site, they must remain wet. For preservation and analysis, the artifacts are bathed in polyethylene glycol which soaks into the waterlogged tissue, replacing the water with wax.
The excavation at the Hoko River Wet Site yielded many fiber artifacts, including baskets, hat, mats, nets, and cordage. Nearly 70% of the material from the site was cordage. Some of the baskets uncovered at the site had been coarsely woven which allowed water to drain out. According to the Makah elders from Neah Bay, these baskets would have been used for packing salmon from fishing weirs upriver to drying racks at the camp at the river mouth.
One of the other interesting finds was a fishnet with two-inch mesh. This artifact was uncovered in deposits which dated to 3,200 years ago. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report: “Scanning electron microscope examination of cell structure identified its fiber as split spruce root or bough, most likely bough, which is stronger than root and absorbs water less readily.”
Ethnographies of Northwest Coast Indian nations, such as the Makah, report that one of the symbols of nobility, of high-class status, was a woven hat with a knob on top. At the wet site, five of these hats were recovered, which suggests that social stratification in this area was much older than previously thought.
The wet site also yielded a number examples of tule mats which were used for many different things including mattresses, canoe cushions, partitions within the long houses, and so on. As a part of the archaeological efforts to understand the past, Makah tribal elders instructed the archaeological field school students in making tule mats. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report: “The goal of the early Hoko River people must have been to make high-quality, long-lasting mats, and therefore, even an experienced mat-maker must have needed three or four days to gather materials for a single mat, prepare them, make the string, and do the sewing.”
Tule mats were used to cover the sides of temporary shelters. The postholes found at the dry site were used to estimate the size of the temporary shelters and it was determined that six to eight mats would have been needed for these shelters. Each mat would have been about four feet by eight feet.
At many sites along the Northwest Coast archaeologists have found small stone blades known as microliths. It was assumed that these microliths had been hafted in some fashion. At the wet site, the archaeologists found hafted knives in which thumbnail-size stone flakes had been placed in between five-inch splints of red cedar and then bound with spruce root and wild cherry bark. Working with the Makah elders, experimental archaeology showed that these knives were used in butchering fish.
At the dry campsite, archaeologists uncovered the bones of rockfish, cod, dogfish, flounder, halibut, salmon, and other fish. The deep-sea species are evidence of off-shore fishing. This means that the people who used the Hoko River sites had watercraft. In addition to fish bones, the archaeologists also found several hundred wooden fishing hooks. These fishhooks date from 1,700 to 3,000 years old and show little change through time.
The dry campsites, located in the forested area back from the river, are composed of three sites dating to 3,400 years ago, 3,100 years ago, and 1,700 years ago. Stone debris shows that some toolmaking was done here. There are also stone-lined storage pits.
The rock shelter at the mouth of the river dates to about 1,000 years ago and shows evidence of seasonal use. The rock shelter had been originally formed through river and wave action and over time had been uplifted by 30 feet, which made it usable for human occupation. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report: “The placement of the hearths suggested that people lived in the northern part of the rock shelter, where prevailing winds would tend to clear out smoke or blow it to fish-drying racks set up in the southern part of the cave.”
Sea mammal bones found at this site include fur seal (69% of the sea mammal bones), elephant seal, porpoise, and whale.
In 1855 the United States met with the Makah Nation in Washington to negotiate a treaty. At this time, the Makah were composed of five semiautonomous villages that shared language, kinship, and cultural traditions. As in other treaty councils, Governor Isaac Stevens told the Makah to select a single man to serve as their supreme chief. When they declined to do so, he simply appointed Tse-kow-wootl, from the village of Ozette, as supreme chief.
Under the terms of the treaty, dictated by Governor Isaac Stevens, the Makah reservation was to be centered at Neah Bay. Only one of the five main Makah villages was included within the new reservation. While the Makah had been successful fishing people for thousands of years, the United States wanted them to become farmers on land which was not suited for agriculture. All of the Makah land which was suitable for agriculture was outside of the new reservation.
With the formation of the Makah Reservation, the village of Ozette is six miles south of the reservation. While the United States government wanted all of the Makah to move to the Neah Bay area, the people of Ozette preferred to remain in their traditional village.
The United States Indian policy was based on the idea of civilizing Indian people through farming. Since the treaty excluded nearly all of the land which could be farmed, a Presidential Executive Order in 1873 expanded the Makah reservation to include some farmable land. However, the village of Ozette, which was still occupied by a number of Makah families, remained outside of the reservation. At this time there were about 200 families living in Ozette.
In the 1880s, the Indian agents on the Makah Reservation were encouraging the Makah families in Ozette to relocate to Neah Bay so that they could be near the schools for their children. With this, the population of Ozette began to decrease. By 1888 only 91 families remained in the village.
In 1893, the 719-acre Ozette Reservation was established by Presidential Executive Order. This action, however, would result in some confusion later on. While Ozette was one of the five traditional Makah villages, the creation of a distinct Ozette Reservation created for non-Indians the illusion that the Makah people on that reservation were somehow a distinct tribe (the Ozette).
The government continued to strongly encourage people to leave Ozette. The population dropped to 44 in 1901, to 35 by 1906, to 17 by 1914, and to only 8 by 1923. In 1911, Congress passed an act directing the Secretary of the Interior to allow members of the Ozette Tribe to receive allotments of land on the Quinault Reservation.
In 1937, only one person was officially living in the village. While the village was officially viewed by the U.S. government as “vacant” it continued to be an important Makah cultural and spiritual center. The people continued to visit the village regularly.
In 1952, with the passage of House Joint Resolution 698, the United States formally began the termination era in which the policy of the United States focused primarily on the termination of all federal responsibilities for Indian tribes and for the dissolution of Indian reservations.
In 1956, the Area Office of Indian Affairs notified the Makah that the Ozette Reservation was going to be terminated. Ozette was to be turned over to the National Park Service (it is adjacent to Olympic National Park), turned over to the General Services Administration, or declared open and unclaimed. The Makah Tribe was given 60 days to respond.
Noting that the Superintendent was opposed to Makah cultural expression and that he had discouraged people from returning to Ozette, and frustrated with the lack of help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the tribe submitted a petition directly to the solicitor general in Washington, D.C. and made a personal plea to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Concluding that the Makah had no beneficial interest in Ozette, the Interior Deputy Solicitor recommended that Ozette be returned to public domain.
In 1970, PL-91-489 declared that the Ozette Reservation would be held in trust by the federal government for the Makah Tribe. At this time, Ozette was beginning to enter the national and international spotlight because it had become an important archaeological site.
Much of what we know about the people of the ancient world has come from archaeological findings in caves and rockshelters. A rockshelter, by the way, is wider than it is deep, while a cave is deeper than it is wide. Rockshelters and caves provided people with shelter, usually temporary, where they could camp while hunting game, gathering wild plants, fishing, or gathering materials for making tools.
More than 13,000 years ago, Indian people began using a rockshelter, 40 feet wide and 25 feet deep beneath a basalt ledge, in southeastern Washington which later became known as the Marmes Rockshelter Site. The site is located near the confluence of the Snake and Palouse Rivers. This was a time, just two millennia after the maximum advance of the glaciers, when the ice age glaciers were retreating into British Columbia. The climate at this time was cold. The ecosystem at this time was a mixed forest of pine and spruce, not the sagebrush prairie ecosystem found in the area today.
Cremation was a common way of dealing with dead bodies, and by 9700 BCE, the Marmes Rockshelter was being used for cremations. One corner was used repeatedly and had a hearth that was ten feet across. The cremations may have been spaced decades apart. With regard to the mortuary practices at Marmes Rockshelter, anthropologist James Chatters in his book Ancient Encounters: Kennewick Man and the First Americans writes: “Marmes Rockshelter, it seems, had been an ancient crematorium.”
Prior to cremation, the bones of the dead were cleaned of their flesh. Within the hearth are the bones of at least six people: three adults (a young woman, a young man, and an adult of undetermined age and gender) and three children between the ages of 8 and 14. Ochre and large implements were used as offerings.
At this time—9700 BCE—the Indian people using the rockshelter were hunting rabbit, elk, deer, and antelope, as well as fishing. As with ancient Indians in other parts of North America, the people who were using the Marmes Rockshelter were using atlatls (a type of spear thrower) as a hunting weapon.
In a layer of the site dated to about 7,000 years ago, archaeologists found a fairly large quantity of Olivella shells which would have had to come from the Pacific coast some 200 miles away. The presence of the shells this far inland suggests that a trade network with the coastal tribes existed at this time. Most of the shells had holes drilled through so that they could be strung together as necklaces.
The archaeology at the Marmes Rockshelter site, ranked among the important North American archaeological sites by archaeologists, can be considered incomplete at best. Archaeologists—or rather archaeologist Richard Daugherty and a few of his students from Washington State University—began in 1952 to survey the area which would be flooded by the Lower Monumental Dam. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that any attention was paid to the Marmes Rockshelter. By 1968, it was apparent the Marmes Rockshelter was a significant site and the Army Corps of Engineers, the builders of the dam, funded a salvage archaeology effort. The Corps of Engineers also reluctantly agreed to postpone the closing of the dam’s gates for a year. Work on the site continued in 18-hour shifts through February 1969. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write: “By February 1969 only about a quarter of the floodplain deposits had been excavated and work in the rockshelter was incomplete, but time ran out.”
With time running out, the archaeologists decided to sacrifice precision for speed and used bulldozers to get to the deeper layers, an action which probably destroyed some of the archaeological evidence.
With an emergency appropriation from President Lyndon Johnson, the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to build a cofferdam to hold the rising waters away from the archaeological site, but the dam failed. The rising waters inundated the rockshelter and 83 other known archaeological sites in the area.
The archaeologists, racing against the rising waters of the reservoir, attempted to protect the site as much as possible with plastic sheeting and dump truck loads of sand. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty wrote: “Someday the reservoir will silt in and archaeological excavation may resume. For the time being nothing more could be done. The site, with all its remaining evidence, lay drowned.”
Marmes Rockshelter today lies under 40 feet of water.
The Makah, whose traditional homeland is on the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, are the western-most Indian nation in the lower forty-eight states of the United States. The name “Makah,” given to this tribe by the neighboring S’Klallam, refers to the generosity of their feasts. The Makah name for themselves means “People Who Live by the Rocks and Seagulls.” Linguistically and culturally, the Makah are related to the Native peoples on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
The Makah village of Ozette is located at the westernmost point of the Olympic Peninsula. The village was established about 50 CE at a prime location for intercepting migrating gray whales as well as fur seals and Steller sea lions. The Makah were a whaling people and the archaeological findings from Ozette show that 75% of the meat and oil came from whales. Northern fur seals were also important.
In 1700, an earthquake along the Pacific coast triggered a mudslide which covered Ozette. Five houses, one of which was unoccupied, were buried. Journalist Ruth Kirk and archaeologist Richard Daugherty, in their book Archaeology in Washington, write: “The Ozette houses were large—60-70 feet long and about 35 feet wide, dimensions typical of Northwest Coast houses and like them built of plants split from cedar logs and lashed to a framework of upright cedar posts.”
The cedar planks used in the walls were up to 2 1/2 feet wide. The wall planks were smoothed with an adze and some were incised with whale, thunderbird, and wolf motifs. Each house was occupied by six to ten individual families and visiting relatives. James Swan spent time with the Makah in 1859 and remarks of their houses: “They are very comfortable dwellings, and contain several families each. Every family has its separate fire, the smoke of which serves not only to dry the fish and blubber suspended over it, but causes an intense smarting to the eyes of the visitors who are unaccustomed to its acrid fumes.”
Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty describe the Ozette houses this way: “Each family had its own living area, readily detectable because of separate cooking hearths. Raised platforms ringed the living space, serving as beds and for storage.”
In 1970, a storm and tidal erosion began to uncover the remains of Ozette. As hikers from the nearby Olympic National Park were walking away with valuable artifacts, The Makah Tribe decided that the site had be to scientifically excavated and tribal chairman Ed Claplanhoo called archaeologist Richard Daugherty at Washington State University and asked him to reopen the archaeological investigation at the site. For the next 11 years, archaeologists from Washington State University working with the Makah recovered more than 55,000 artifacts. Many people feel that this was one of the most important archaeological digs in North America, not only because of the artifacts uncovered, but also because of the involvement of the Makah people in the process. Ruth Kirk and Richard Daugherty report: “Makah students took part in the fieldwork and the preservation of artifacts; Makah elders visited the site and shared memories and information regarding various objects.”
With regard to the agreement between the Makah and the archaeologists, Patricia Erickson, in her book Voices of a Thousand People: The Makah Cultural & Research Center, reports: “No artifacts would leave the physical jurisdiction of the tribe to be displayed, nor would any prehistoric loss of life associated with the Ozette mudslide be mentioned publicly, if any were discovered.”
The Makah site is what archaeologists call a “wet site” in which the mud which covered the village also served to protect organic material from decay by sealing out the air. As a result, the archaeologists were able to recover things like a piece of a dog-wool blanket and a braid of human hair.
Most prehistoric archaeological sites in North America are places which were abandoned by the Indian people who had lived there. As a result, archaeologists have to interpret daily life by the trash that people left behind. Ozette, however, is more like Pompeii in Italy in that the mudslide covered up a living village giving the archaeologists a glimpse of the daily lives of the people.
Once archaeologists have dug a site, the next task includes preserving the artifacts, interpreting what they mean, and then displaying them to the public. For most archaeological sites in the United States, this means transporting the artifacts to a distant museum or university where non-Indian people take over the tasks of interpreting meaning and displaying the artifacts to the public. In the nineteenth century the emphasis was on displaying artifacts, but this has changed: most museums over the past fifty years or so want to explain the artifacts to the public, to use them in telling a story. The story, however, is often a non-Indian view of the American Indian past. Patricia Erickson, in her book Voices of a Thousand People: The Makah Cultural & Research Center, writes: “In the history of the United States, and of many European societies, the museum has been one of the places where particular versions of knowledge have been legitimated and others have been categorized as primitive folklore or myth.”
The Makah did not want their heritage sent to a distant facility: they wanted to retain it on their own reservation so that their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would be able to understand their own past and the teachings of the elders. In 1979 the tribe opened the Makah Cultural and Research Center to house the artifacts from the archaeological excavation at Ozette. The museum is more than a display of artifacts for tourists: it is intended to inform and educate the community about the ancestral Makah. It is about remembering ancestors, traditions, language, and values.
With regard to language, museum collections have been traditionally arranged and indexed with regard to material culture which would include categories such as containers, hunting gear, and so on. However, in the development of the Makah museum it was soon realized that these categories were English language cognitive categories. Thus the collection was organized on the basis of Makah cognitive categories instead of English categories. Patricia Erickson reports: “Makah conceptual categories became used not only for organizing the collection but also for stimulating reflection on Makah worldviews codified in their language.” Bilingual labels are used in the Museum’s displays.
Today, the Makah Cultural and Research Center is one of more than 100 tribal museums in the United States (there are also about 50 in Canada). About 20,000 non-Makah visitors per year get to see and experience the Makah heritage and the materials from Ozette.
The Cordilleran Ice Sheet began to spread across present-day Washington state more than 17,000 years ago. The ice blocked the Strait of Juan de Fuca and moved down the eastern side of the Olympics the full length of Puget Sound. During this time, sea levels dropped by about 400 feet. Then the climate warmed and the ice began its slow retreat to the north. The area south of the continental ice sheets was inhabited by megafauna—really big mammals including two kinds of elephants (mammoths and mastodons), camels, giant sloths, big bears, and others—and by humans who sometimes hunted these big animals.
While the mastodon seems to resemble both the extinct wooly mammoth and the modern elephant, it is only distantly related to them. The mastodon diverged from the lineage leading to the mammoth and the elephant about 27 million years ago. It went extinct in North America about 10,500 years ago.
Current evidence suggests that mastodons were forest dwelling animals, feeding on sylvan vegetation, such as coniferous twigs. Their range in the Americas during the Pleistocene era was from Alaska in the north to Honduras in the south. There is no evidence of them in South America.
Mastodons were large animals, standing about 7 feet 7 inches at the shoulder and weighing about 5 tons. Females were usually smaller than males.
About 11,800 BCE, an elderly mastodon which had survived an encounter with an Indian hunter earlier in its life, waded into a small pond near present-day Sequim, Washington where it fell over and died of old age. Indian scavengers quickly butchered the portion of the body which remained above the water, undoubtedly feasting upon mastodon roasts and steaks for several days.
At that time, the main mass of the ice field has drawn back to today’s San Juan Islands. People at the pond where the mastodon had died could still see remnants of the continental glacier.
By 1977, the glacial ice sheets which had once covered western Washington were known primarily by geologists, archaeologists, museum curators, tribal elders, and a few others. There were illustrations in textbooks and museum displays with a focus primarily on the megafauna which lived to the south of the ice sheets. Little was known about the human people, the American Indians, who lived in the area. This all began to change when Claire and Emanuel Manis decided to turn a cattail quagmire near their home into a pond for migrating ducks and geese. Using a backhoe, Emanuel Manis began to dig and at a depth of about six feet he encountered something strange: it appeared to be two tusks, one about four feet long and the other about six feet long. He stopped digging and called Washington State University archaeologist Dr. Richard Daugherty who was conducting archaeological research at the Makah village site of Ozette.
Daugherty, along with zoologist Dr. Carl Gustafson and graduate student Delbert Gilbow began the process of recovering more of the animal’s remains. In a seven-inch piece of rib they noticed an embedded piece of bone about the size of a human thumb. Closer examination under a microscope followed by X-ray examination showed them that it was a bone spear point: it had been pierced by a hunter and had survived. The wound inflicted by the hunter had not been fatal.
The archaeologists find that few artifacts had been left at the site. Among those found by archaeologists was a piece of bone about three inches long and bluntly pointed at each end. It is similar in shape to the spearpoint embedded in the mastodon’s rib. This spearpoint, by the way, had been made from mastodon bone.
The Manis Mastodon Site is important for a number of reasons. First, if there are any academics left who feel that North America was not inhabited until after the great continental ice sheets had melted, this provides one more piece of evidence showing the great time depth of American Indians. Secondly, it shows that Indian people were skillful hunters who hunted a wide variety of both big game and small game.
In 2001, Clare Manis donated the mastodon site on her property near Sequim, Washington to the National Archaeological Conservancy.
Suqamish Chief Kitsap lived from about 1750 to about 1845. He was born and raised in Suquamish (in what is now Washington state). He was a friend and ally of Chief Sealth’s father. Kitsap had winter houses at Fort Madison and Pleasant Beach on Bainbridge Island. He was known as a brilliant war strategist and as an expert bow marksman. He often led intertribal forces from Puget Sound into battle against raiding tribes from the North. He was best known for leading a Suquamish raid to Vancouver Island to avenge an enemy tribe. For this, the Suquamish recognized Kitsap as a leader and historians have described him as “the most powerful chief of all the Indians from Olympia to the Fraser River.”
He helped build the Old Man House communal dwelling that became one of the largest winter houses in the Northwest Coast. The Old Man House was the center of the Suquamish winter village on Agate Pass, located just south of the present-day town of Suquamish. The original name of the site was D’Suq’Wub which means “clear salt water.”
The site of D’Suq’Wub was occupied for at least 2,000 years according to the archaeological investigations at the site. While some sources indicate that the longhouse itself was built in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, archaeology seems to suggest that it was originally constructed earlier than this.
With regard to size, the Old Man House was between 200 and 300 meters (600 to 1,000 feet) in length.
In 1792, the British Captain George Vancouver arrived at the Strait of Juan de Fuca and took possession of the area for England, ignoring the fact that it had been occupied by American Indian nations for thousands of years. He named the area New Georgia after King George III. One of the Native leaders who met Vancouver’s party was Chief Kitsap. According to the Native accounts, Chief Kitsap helped guide the British through the area.
Vancouver noted that many of the Indians in the area had pock-marked faces, that many villages appeared to have been recently abandoned, and that there were many recent graves. This was probably an indication of smallpox. The Indians were not always friendly and the English found that they already had firearms and knew how to use them.
Around 1825, Chief Kitsap helped to organize a large intertribal coalition of the Indian nations of the Puget Sound area. Under his leadership, this coalition attacked the Cowichan, a group of tribes living on Vancouver Island who often raided against the Puget Sound tribes. Chief Kitsap’s coalition forces with about 200 canoes, however, were soundly defeated by the Cowichan.
In 1855, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens set out to negotiate-or rather, impose-a series of treaties on the Indian nations of the region which would free land for non-Indian settlement and place Indians on less valuable land, out of the way of American settlement. Stevens knew very little about Indians and assumed that all Indian cultures were the same and were inferior to American culture. He sought a long-term goal of eradicating Indian cultures.
It should be noted that by this time, the once populous Chehalis living along Grays Harbor had been reduced from many thousand to just a few hundred due to the “big sick” which had struck a few years before.
On the Chehalis River near Grays Harbor, Washington, Stevens met with the Queets, Quinault, Satsop, Lower Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Chinook. The Quileute did not attend the conference even though they had been invited. The tribes were strongly opposed to the land cessions and removal which Stevens was attempting to force upon them. After several days of talks, the Indians refused to sign the treaty.
One of the consequences of the Stevens Treaties was war. In 1855, war broke out in the Puget Sound area. While the Chehalis and other Indian nations in the Grays Harbor area had no tradition of warfare, but tended to be business-oriented (i.e. traders), the Americans were fearful that they would join the Indian uprisings. Americans with rifles began to raid the peaceful Indian villages, disarming the Indians, and placing them under surveillance. Some of the Indians-Upper and Lower Chehalis-were herded together on Sidney Ford’s farm near Steilacoom; some of the coastal Indians, including the Cowlitz, were placed in a “local reservation” on the Chehalis River; and the Chinook were placed inland at Fort Vancouver. The Indians were stripped of their personal property and held as captives for nearly two years.
In 1857, The Northwest Coast; or Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory by James Swan provided some description of the Indians of the Territory. He did not generalize about Indians and criticized the literary stereotypes of the Indians. He wrote:
“In all matters relating to Indians, I only give an account of those I have lived with [original emphasis], the Chenooks, Chehalis, and one or two tribes north of Gray’s Harbor.”
With regard to the Indians’ desire to trade, Swan noted that this did not mean that they wanted to adopt European or American lifestyles:
“They feel as we would if a foreign people came among us, and attempted to force their customs on us whether we liked them or not. We are willing the foreigners should come, and settle, and live with us; but if they attempted to force upon us their language and religion, and make us leave our old homes and take up new ones, we would certainly rebel; and it would be by a long intercourse of years that our manners could be made to approximate.”
The Chehalis continued to oppose the idea of an American imposed treaty with its land cessions and reservation. In 1859, a group of Chehalis killed Chehalis chief Anawata because he escorted an Indian agent to the Chehalis River for a treaty conference a year earlier.
In 1864, the Chehalis reservation was established by Presidential executive order. The reservation contained 4,225 acres. The superintendent sought to bring onto the reservation all of the nonreservation Chinook, Willapa Bay, Cowlitz, and Chehalis Indians. Government “potlatches” were held where gifts were given to the Indians in an attempt to persuade them to move to the reservation and give up their “bad habits” of gambling, head flattening, polygyny, sorcery, and drinking. The government attempted to remove the Cowlitz to the Chehalis Reservation, but the Cowlitz refused to move.
The Treaty of Point Elliot was signed near present-day Everett in Western Washington in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attend the treaty conference. Fifteen tribes sign over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes is to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period.
The Point Elliot Treaty is signed by nine Snohomish chiefs. The Snohomish Reservation (later called the Tulalip Reservation) is intended for occupation by the Snohomish, the Skykomish, the Snoqualme, and the Stillaguamish.
Today the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve has the mission to revive, restore, protect, interpret, collect, and enhance the history, traditional cultural values and spiritual beliefs of the Tulalip Tribes who are the successors of the tribes which signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. Shown below are photographs of some of the displays in the cultural center.
The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years.
Two traditional Salish welcoming figures (shown above) greet visitors to the Cultural Center. The female figure shows an elder woman carrying a clam basket. The male figure is dressed in regalia holding a paddle, symbolizing the fact that that the Tulalip people are historically saltwater and river people.
One of the displays shows the importance of cedar to the Tulalip tribes.
The three baskets shown above have two design motifs that make them distinctly Tulalip: the whale and the duck.
The Tulalip tribes made clothing, such as the shirt shown above, out of cedar. This type of clothing provided protection from the rain. Shredded cedar bark was woven into blankets, aprons, and hats as well as shirts. Cedar barks strips were pounded into soft, workable piece. Natural oils, such as bear fat, deer tallow, duckoil, and dogfish oil, would then be added to the shredded bark to make it softer. To make their clothing and blankets extra warm, the weavers used a variety of fur, such as the hair of an extinct breed of wooly dog and mountain sheep wool, which was woven into the garment.
The drawing shown above shows how the bark was removed from the tree.
According to the display:
“We only too what we needed”
“Our ingenious ancestors crafted ideal fishing and hunting methods suited to the type of catch and environment.”
During the spring and summer, families would leave their winter longhouses and camp along the shorelines, rivers, islands, and creeks. During this time, they would often build mat houses such as the one shown above.
Salmon were harvested using weirs-fences made from small cedar, maple, or hemlock poles lashed together. The weir would be stretched either part way or all the way across the river. As the salmon swam upstream they would be forced to swim along the weir to the only opening which led into a fish trap. According to the display:
“Weirs were only as good as the leaders in charge of their construction. Our ancestors ensured a good catch by setting weirs according to the environment and the migratory patterns of the salmon.”
The display also indicated:
“Even though they could harvest a large quantity of salmon, history taught our ancestors the need to share the wealth and conserve for future harvests. They were careful to take only what they needed to allow the remaining salmon to swim to the spawning ground.”
The harvested salmon would be preserved by air drying and smoking (shown above).
Foods would often be prepared by boiling and steaming. Watertight baskets would be filled with water, then hot rocks added to bring the water to a boil. Salmon, shellfish, and other meats would be prepared this way. Steamer clams and mussels would be cooked on hot rocks and covered with seaweed to trap the steam.
The Tulalip people gathered shellfish, speared fish, and caught ducks at night using torches which they would set on the beach or in the bow of the canoe.
Shown above is an open basket which was used for gathering clams and small fish.
Shown above is a stone anchor.
The paddle on the left (shown above) is a woman’s paddle; the center paddle is a steersman’s paddle; and the paddle on the right is a hunting paddle.
Shown above are some stone mauls.
Shown above is a raven rattle.
In 1792, American ships from Boston under the command of Captain Robert Gray sailed along the Pacific Coast of what is now Oregon and Washington seeking to trade with the coastal Indians and obtain furs which were valuable in the European and Chinese markets. On May 7, Gray sailed into a large estuarine bay about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of the mouth of the Columbia River. Ignoring any possibility that the indigenous people who lived in the area might have had a name for it, he named it Bullfinch Harbor in honor of Charles Bullfinch of Boston, one of the owners of the Columbia Rediviva. Later, Captain George Vancouver named it Grays Harbor in honor of Captain Robert Gray and this is the name that it carries today.
Shown above is a portrait of Robert Gray which is on display in the Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington.
While most history books credit John Gray with “discovering” the harbor that currently carries his name, the people who lived there when he sailed in didn’t feel like the area needed to be “discovered.” When the ship sailed into the harbor, the Chehalis came out in canoes to greet it. John Boit, the ship’s fifth officer reported:
“Vast many canoes came off, full of Indians. They appeared to be a savage set, and was well arm’d, every man having his Quiver and Bow slung over his shoulder.”
The Americans traded with the Chehalis for some fish and furs. Boit also noted:
“The men were entirely naked, and the women, except a small apron made of rushes, was also in a state of nature. They were stout made, and very ugly.”
When the natives approached again the following day, the ship opened fire on the canoes with their cannons, destroying one canoe with 20 men in it and driving the others off. Boit wrote:
“I am sorry we was obliged to kill the poor Devils, but it could not with safety be avoided.”
The message to the people was clear: the intruders were not particularly peaceful.
The Chehalis are a group of culturally, linguistically, and historically related tribes that have lived in the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. With regard to language, Chehalis is classified as a part of the larger Salish language family. The Salish language family is found on the Northwest Coast and in the Columbia Plateau area. Salish is generally felt to have great antiquity in the Northwest Coast. Linguists estimate that this language family may be 6,000 years old, although some feel it may be as young as 3,000 years old.
The Chehalis are generally divided into two broad groups: Upper Chehalis and Lower Chehalis with the boundary between the groups the confluence of the Chehalis River and the Satsop River. The lower Chehalis include the Copalis, Wynoochee, and Humptulips. The Satsop are part of the Upper Chehalis.
Like the other Indian nations living along the Pacific coast of what is now Washington and British Columbia, the Chehalis subsistence activities emphasized fishing and marine mammal hunting. Sturgeon was a popular item and often weighed 200 to 300 pounds. Sturgeon fishing was an art and was done with a large hook fasted to a cedar and spruce bark rope. This was fitted to a long pole, often 20 feet or longer. Holding the rope and pole, the channel floor would be probed for the large fish. It would sometimes take hours to land a large sturgeon. It is reported that a skilled fisherman would pull a 300-pound sturgeon into a canoe without shipping water.
In addition, they gathered shellfish and plants. Mussels and cockle clams were staples.
While the stereotype of American Indians envisions them as living in tipis, the Indians of the Northwest Coast lived in substantial wooden houses. These multi-family houses were built with planks on a post and beam frame. Coast Salish houses were typically 30 to 50 feet wide and they ranged from 50 to 200 feet in length.
In 1824, Hudson’s Bay trader John Work brought a large trading party into Grays Harbor. He reported:
“We passed 4 villages of the Chihalis nation, 2 houses in the first, five in the second, 2 in the third and 3 in the fourth, opposite which we encamped.”
Work described the houses:
“These peoples houses are constructed of planks set on end and neatly fastened at the top, those in the ends lengthening towards the middle to form the proper pitch, the roofs are cased with plank, the seams between which are filled with moss, a space is left open all along the ridge which answers the double purpose of letting out smoke and admitting the light.”
Salish houses were divided into compartments. The compartment would occupy the space between two rafters and would contain a hearth. Each compartment would be occupied by two related nuclear families. The walls were usually lined with rush mats which helped to seal the cracks between the wall planks. These mats could also be used as sleeping mats and as pillows. Along the walls there was often a bench which was used for storage and sleeping. Items would be stored both on top of the bench and underneath it.
The houses would usually be arranged in a single row facing the water. Villages might have as few as four or five houses, while many villages would have 15 or more.
One of the cultural features of the Northwest Coast Indian nations is the potlatch. The potlatch is a series of songs, dances, and rituals. As a part of the potlatch, the host clan gives away a great deal of wealth which serves as a validation of the clan’s status of the society. Wealth was important to the Indian nations of the Northwest Coast and giving it away was a way of gaining status.
Potlatches are held to honor the dead as well as to celebrate life transitions such as marriages and births. The potlatch brings people-both living and dead-together. The guests at a potlatch see and experience the social business of the event, such as the inheritance of a name. They mentally record and validate that which has happened.
The potlatch itself often lasts for days with special songs for greeting the arriving guests and large quantities of food. During the several days of the potlatch, the hosts provide the guests with two large meals per day.
Since Americans are obsessed with the acquisition of property, the idea of giving it away is somehow offensive. Christian missionaries opposed the potlatch and it was banned in both Canada and the United States. However, Indian people continued the potlatch away from the government and the missionaries. The potlatch is currently legal in both countries
One of the functions of the potlatch is to memorialize those who have died. Among most of the Northwest Coast Indian nations, death involves reincarnation.
At the time of first contact with Europeans, the Coast Salish used wooden coffins and canoes set up in graveyards as a means of disposing of dead bodies. Regarding Chehalis burials, nineteenth century school superintendent Edwin Chalcraft reported:
“It was the old-time Indian custom in burying the dead at Chehalis to have the grave shallow enough to permit the cover of the box in which the body had been placed to be level with the surface of the ground, and then build a small house, about three feet high, over the grave.”
John Jacob Astor came to the United States following the Revolutionary War and through his contacts with the North West Company in Canada soon entered into the fur trade. By 1800 he was one of the leaders in the American fur trade. He also began trading furs and other items in China.
Astor envisioned a chain of trading posts on the upper Missouri River and a fleet of trading ships that would supply posts on the Columbia River. These ships would also be able to trade along the coast and supply the Russian trading posts in Alaska. The ships would then carry the furs to Canton, China where they would be traded for prized Chinese merchandise which would then be transported to the northeastern United States.
In 1808 he established the American Fur Company which sought to control the fur trade in the Great Lakes area. The Pacific Fur Company was then created as a subsidiary of the American Fur Company with the idea of controlling the fur trade along the Columbia River and providing a direct link between American furs and the Chinese market. Two decades earlier, American traders had discovered that there was an exceptionally high demand for sea otter fur in China and this could be translated into huge profits. The working partners in the new venture included three former partners in the Canadian North West Company: Alexander McKay, Donald McKenzie, and Duncan McDougal.
Astor is shown above.
Shown above are some of the Chinese goods which the traders would bring back to the United States.
In order to create his Pacific coast fur trading empire, the Pacific Fur Company John Jacob Astor established Fort Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River in 1811. The American traders and trappers who worked out of Fort Astoria became commonly known as Astorians. In the Pacific Northwest, the Astorians would enter into competition with the long-established Hudson’s Bay Company (whose investors lived in England) and the North West Company (the Nor’westers made up of working partners based in Montreal, Canada).
While Astor provided the capital for the new company, several partners were given a small ownership of the company and would be in command in the field. With one exception, the other partners were Canadians who had once worked for the rival North West Company.
To establish his new trading post at the mouth of the Columbia, Astor sent out two groups: one traveled by ship and the other came overland. Astor purchased a first rate ship-the Tonquin-for the voyage and filled it with $54,000 in trade goods. On its way to Oregon, the Tonquin stopped at the Hawaiian Islands where the Astorians engaged in some local trade. When they sailed for Oregon, they carried pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry which they had acquired in Hawaii as well as 24 native Hawaiians.
The Tonquin had been originally built in 1807 and prior to being purchased by Astor, the ship had made two trips to the Pacific and China. The ship was 94 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 12 feet deep.
Shown above is a drawing of the Tonquin crossing the Columbia River Bar.
The ship arrived first and the Astorians set about building their new fort. As they were setting up the fort, a party of Nor’Westers under the leadership of David Thompson arrived. Thompson told the Astorians that he had already taken possession of the country upstream and had established a permanent post on the Spokane River.
The map above shows the location of the Indian nations near Fort Astoria.
After dropping the Astorians at the mouth of the Columbia River, the ship was instructed to sail north to Alaska. Astor had been negotiating with the Russians for supplies and furs and wanted to stop the British from establishing any posts on the Pacific coast. Somewhere near Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the ship’s captain managed to insult a Native chief. The following day, a war party of more than 200 Native warriors attacked the ship. During the battle, the ship exploded killing everyone on board. The Astorians, who were counting on the ship to resupply them, were essentially marooned.
Shown above are displays of the trade goods the Astorians brought in. These displays are at the Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon.
The map above shows the outline of the original fort and its buildings and the current city park commemorating the fort.
Shown above are photographs of the reconstructed blockhouse and the mural of the fort at the city park which commemorates Fort Astoria. The designation “Fort George” and the Union Jack in the mural show that the fort is depicted after the takeover by the North West Company. Notice the cranial deformation on the natives. The high forehead, achieved by binding the skull of an infant, was considered a mark of beauty.
Fort Astoria was constructed in Chinook territory, though the Americans simply ignored any possible Indian land claims. The traders dealt primarily with Chief Comcomly’s band. The American traders soon found that Chinook women were as active in the trading process as were the men.
Following the establishment of Fort Astoria, the Astorians quickly spread out to establish other trading posts along the Columbia River and its tributaries. They soon established Fort Okanogan to serve the people in the Upper Columbia River area and to provide competition with the North West Company.
In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company overland party under the leadership of Wilson Price Hunt arrived at the trading post in Astoria. The party left their goods and began the overland trip back with orders for the supplies for the coming year.
By May 1812, the Astorians had purchased 3,500 pelts for the local Indians, including 1,750 beaver, 15 sea otter, 15 squirrel, and 1 red fox.
Shown above are beaver pelts which are on display at the Heritage Museum in Astoria, Oregon.
In 1812, the Pacific Fur Company established Fort Spokane a short distance from the Nor’wester trading post. It was not uncommon for rival trading companies to set up next door to each other. While they competed for furs, the two groups mixed socially. The American post boasted a dance hall where the Nor’westers and Astorians would mix.
In 1812, Pacific Fur Company trader Donald McKenzie established a fur trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers near present-day Lewiston, Idaho in Nez Perce country. McKenzie soon became discouraged by: (1) the reluctance of the Nez Perce to trap for the company, and (2) the relative lack of fur-bearing animals in the area. Historian Alvin Josephy reports the trading post failure this way:
“The Nez Perce were willing to trade things they owned or produced, like clothing, food, and horses, but they were not willing to become beaver trappers and laborers for the whites.”
In addition, while the Palouse and Nez Perce were interested in the manufactured goods, they felt that the prices were too high.
In 1813, Pacific Fur Company trader Duncan McDougall married the daughter of Chinook chief Comcomly. From Comcomly’s perspective, having McDougall as a son-in-law increased his access to goods which in turn increased his prestige. From the Astorian viewpoint, the marriage into one of the most powerful Native families in the region provided the company with economic and physical security.
In 1813, Pacific Fur Company trader John Clarke traveled from the Spokane River area to the Palouse village of Palus where he prepared his canoes for the journey down the Snake and Columbia Rivers. In order to impress the Indians, he brought out two silver goblets, poured a little wine in one of them, and had a chief drink from it. The next morning, the trader found that one of the goblets was missing. After the goblet was recovered, traders then hung the man believed to have taken the goblet. The incident provoked hostility toward the Americans from all of the neighboring tribes. Americans would later find that Indians have long memories.
In Idaho, the Pacific Fur Company established a trading post at the confluence of the Snake and Boise Rivers. The post was located at a traditional Bannock summer camping area where the people fished for salmon. The Bannock were not happy about the post’s location.
In January 1813, Donald McKenzie, one of the “working” partners arrived at Fort Astoria with the news that the United States was now at war with Great Britain. There were rumors that two British warships were sailing to Astoria to take over the post. The two working partners at the post, McKenzie and Duncan McDougall, began making plans to abandon Astoria.
In October 1813, 75 Nor’westers arrived at Fort Astoria and set up camp outside the stockade. The Nor’westers and the Astorians were long-time veterans in the fur trade and knew each other well. Talks between the two groups were friendly and soon they struck a deal to sell Astoria to the Nor’westers for $58,000. When the British corvette Racoon arrived in Astoria two months later with orders to seize Fort Astoria from the Americans, Captain William Black was surprised to find the British flag already flying over the fort. He was also surprised at the size and construction of the fort:
“What, is this the fort I have heard so much of? Great God, I could batter it down with a four-pounder in two hours!”
Captain Black was under orders to seize the fort, so he insisted on a formal surrender ceremony. The American flag was once again run up the flagpole, then taken down and once again replaced with the Union Jack. Captain Black officially named Astoria Fort George, after King George.
With the takeover by the Nor’westers, Fort Spokane was also transferred to the new owners and was designated Spokane House. Most of those who worked there, however, continued to refer to it as Fort Spokane.
The Nor’westers continued to operate Fort George until their merger with Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in 1821. At the time of the merger, the Nor’westers had 97 trading posts and HBC had 76. In 1825, the post was abandoned when HBC moved its quarters to Fort Vancouver. Part of the reason for abandoning Fort George was to break Chinook chief Comcomly’s monopoly on trade in the lower Columbia.
The Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington, has a room dedicated to “Common Land, Uncommon Cultures: Traditional Peoples of Grays Harbor.” The Quinault and Chehalis basketmakers used both wrapped and plain twined techniques. Shown below are some of the baskets which are on display.
Shown above is a Quinault storage basket which uses cedar twining. The lid is Makah in design.
Sealth was born about 1786. His father, Schweabe, was Suquamish and his mother, Scholitza, was Duwamish. As a young boy in 1792, he witnessed the arrival of the first Europeans: British Captain George Vancouver entered Puget Sound and traded with the Suquamish.
As a young adult, Sealth successfully stopped an attack against the Suquamish by the Cascade tribes. About 1825, he set up a successful ambush on a river bend near present-day Auburn. As a result of this military success, he was designated as a tribal chief. From 1820 to 1850 he was a spokesman and diplomat for the Suquamish and other Puget Sound tribes in their dealings with fur traders and missionaries.
In 1852, he formed a partnership with David “Doc” Maynard from Olympia to set up a fishery on Elliot Bay. He hired the Duwamish to help him build a new store and named it the “Seattle Exchange” after Chief Sealth. He filed a city plat with Seattle as the new settlement’s name. Maynard obtained Sealth’s permission in exchange for an annual payment during his lifetime. Among the traditional Suquamish, the names of the dead are not mentioned for at least five years and the names of dead chiefs are not to be uttered for ten. The payment, a kind of royalty, was an acknowledgment of the pain which would be inflicted on Sealth after his death because a variation of his name-Seattle-would continue to be spoken.
Seattle became an important economic outlet for the Suquamish and Duwamish people and allowed them easier access to American goods.
In 1855, Sealth and other tribal leaders in the Puget Sound area signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. In this treaty, the Suquamish gave up most of their land in exchange for a small reservation, health care, education, and acknowledgment and protection of their rights to continue to fish and hunt.
The 1855 treaties imposed on the Indian nations of Washington by Governor Isaac Stevens led to a war east of the Cascade Mountains led by Kamiakin, and the Puget Sound War led by Leschi. Despite these wars and the many grievances of the Indian people against the American invaders, Sealth kept his people at peace.
He died in 1866 at the Old Man House winter village and is buried in the Suquamish cemetery.
Chief Seattle’s (Sealth’s) Grave:
Shown below are some photographs of Chief Sealth’s grave.
The river known to the Chinook Indians as Hyas Cooley Chuck collides with the Pacific Ocean to create the worst wave conditions on the planet. While Native people crossed the Bar in their large ocean-going canoes, the rough water stopped many of the early European explorers who were looking for the mythical River of the West. In May 1792, the American fur trader Captain Robert Gray waited out nine days of adverse conditions on the Bar before finally crossing into the river. He named the river for his ship, the Columbia Rediviva.
The ship’s young fifth mate kept a journal in which he recorded:
“The Indians are very numerous, and appear’d very civil (not even offering to steal).”
He described the Indians:
“The Men, at Columbia’s River, are strait limb’d, fine looking fellows, and the Women are very pretty. They are all in a state of Nature, except the females, who wear a leaf Apron.”
A replica of a Chinook longhouse is shown above.
Among the Chinook men who met with the American fur traders was a young man known as Comcomly, who would later become a major chief.
In 1795, the British trading ship Jane under Captain John Myers sailed into the Columbia River. The ship carried a cargo of axes, chisels, hammers, copper sheets, small bells, paints, clothing, china beads, buckets, firearms, and ammunition to trade with the Chinook.
Soon after Jane, the British ship Ruby under Captain Charles Bishop sailed into the Columbia. The ship traded for furs for eleven days. When the Chinook ran out of furs, the British traded for clamons, a kind of body armor made by the Chinook. These were in high demand by the Indian nations farther up the Pacific coast. The captain noted in his journal:
“The Sea Otter skins procured here, are of an Excellent Quality and large size, but they are not in abundance and the Natives themselves set great value on them.”
Captain Bishop invited Chief Comcomly to spend the night aboard the ship and provided him with a fine coat and trousers. Comcomly then led a Chinook expedition 300 miles upriver to obtain more clamons. Some of these were obtained by less than peaceful trading.
Over the next two decades, Comcomly solidified his leadership among the Chinook bands using a combination of trading skills, diplomacy, and marriage. Some writers report that he had a wife from nearly every tribe in the confederation as well as some outside of the confederacy. With regard to his physical appearance, Comcomly is generally described as being short and blind in one eye.
In 1805, the American Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reached the mouth of the Columbia River and established their winter camp, Fort Clatsop, on Chinook land. Thanks to the cooperation of the Chinook and the Clatsop, the Americans were provided with the food that enabled them to survive the winter.
While Comcomly did not greet the Americans when they first arrived, he did sit in council with them at his village later. The Americans provided him with a medal and an American flag. Both Clark and Lewis admired Comcomly’s sea-otter robe and tried to bargain for it. Comcomly pointed to Sacagawea’s belt of blue beads and indicated that is what he wanted for the robe. One of the captains then gave Sacagawea a blue coat for her belt and she gave the belt to Comcomly. The journals do not indicate who finally got the robe.
The Americans generally expressed mistrust and contempt for both the Chinook and the Clatsop. There is some indication that Comcomly also mistrusted the Americans as evidenced by the fact that he did not visit their camp.
In 1810, the Boston ship Albatross under the command of Nathan Winship sailed up the Columbia River past Chinook chief Comcomly’s trading headquarters. About 45 miles upstream, the Bostonians built a fort. As an old hand in the Pacific fur trade, Winship wanted to bypass Comcomly’s monopoly on trade with the Indians of the Columbia River and to establish direct trade with the Indian nations upstream.
Comcomly was insulted by this action, and a delegation of warriors, all fully armed, paddled to the newly established fort. There was some hostile confrontation in the form of shooting and shouting. One of the Bostonians recorded:
“Much to our chagrin we find it impossible to prosecute the business as we intended, and we have concluded to pass farther down. On making this known to the Chinooks they appeared quite satisfied and sold us some furs.”
The Bostonians abandoned their enterprise after eight days.
The first permanent settlement of American traders at the mouth of the Columbia River came in 1811when the Pacific Fur Company established Fort Astoria. The first group of Astorians arrived on the ship Tonquin. Two of the American partners, Duncan McDougal and David Stuart came ashore in a small boat and met with Chief Comcomly. They found Comcomly agreeable to the idea of a trading post for his people.
When the Americans set out to return to their ship, Chief Comcomly pointed out that the rough conditions on the river would make the trip across the Bar difficult in their small vessel. The Americans didn’t listen and set out anyway. Chief Comcomly, knowing that they couldn’t make it, simply followed in one of his canoes. When the traders’ boat capsized, Comcomly rescued them. Comcomly took the wet men ashore, built a fire, dried their clothes, and then took them to a Chinook village. He advised them to wait until conditions were more suitable for the return to their ship.
The Americans found that the Chinook village consisted of about 30 very large, wood houses. For three days they were entertained in the village (it is assumed that this included having sex with Chinook women). Then Comcomly took his guests back to their ship in his royal canoe. This helped firm up the good relations between Comcomly and the traders.
The trading alliance with Fort Astoria added to the prestige and wealth of the Chinook in general and Comcomly in particular. The power which Comcomly held over the trade along the Columbia can be seen in the log of the Pacific Fur Company. Fort Astoria was visited by few Clatsop and Chehalis and when asked about why they didn’t trade directly:
“They told us that being cautioned by the Chinooks, against coming, as we were very inveterate against their Nation, for their conduct to former Visetors they did not wish to put themselves in our power. This we made them sensible to be an egregious falsehood imposed upon them by the Chinooks, merely to monopolize the Trade….”
In order to solidify the alliance even further, McDougal dispatched one of his clerks with an important message for Comcomly: he wanted to marry one of Comcomly’s daughters. Comcomly, who had many daughters, was pleased to oblige.
Comcomly made almost daily visits to Fort Astoria and was admitted to the most intimate councils of his son-in-law. He was also given his own quarters in the fort.
Word that the United States was at war with Britain reached the Astorians in 1813 along with a party of Nor’westers (traders from the North West Company-owned by the British). The Nor’Westers informed the Astorians that a British war ship was on its way to take over the fort and consequently the Astorians hastily sold the fort to the Nor’westers.
When the British warship Racoon arrived, Fort Astoria was renamed Fort George. Comcomly was soon aboard the Racoon telling the captain that he was delighted to see a British ship on the river. He left with a British flag, coat, hat, and sword. The following day, he wore his new regalia to Fort George. Duncan McDougal, the working partner of the Pacific Fur Company who sold the company to the Nor’Westers, stayed on at the fort in the employ of the Nor’Westers. This meant that Comcomly retained his connections with the trading post.
In 1821, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the Nor’westers merged. In 1824, HBC governor George Simpson and Dr. John McLoughlin, the new chief factor for the fort, arrived at Fort George. Simpson was not pleased with either the fort or with Comcomly’s relationship to it. With regard to Comcomly and the Chinook, Simpson said:
“They never take the trouble of hunting and rarely employ their Slaves in that way, they are however keen traders and through their hands nearly the whole of our Furs pass, indeed so tenacious are they of the Monopoly that their jealousy would carry them the length of pillaging and even murdering strangers who come to the Establishment if we did not protect them.”
HBC moved their trading operation 90 miles upriver where they established Fort Vancouver. This moved deprived Comcomly of his role of middleman, thus diminishing his prestige and wealth.
Comcomly had an excellent understanding of the Columbia River and its dangerous Bar. With the increasing number of ships attempting to cross the Bar bringing in trade goods and supply, Comcomly’s skill as a pilot was soon in great demand. His skill as a pilot earned him the respect of the HBC captains as well as Chief Factor McLoughlin.
In 1830, the epidemic known as the “cold sick” (possibly malaria) swept through the Native populations of the region. One of the victims of this epidemic was Comcomly. He was estimated to be in his mid-sixties when he died. His body, together with his war weapons, ceremonial dresses, and other possessions, was placed in a canoe. The canoe was placed on a raised platform near Point Ellice.
The Tulalip tribes–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have lived along the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) for thousands of years. Dramatic changes in their cultures began 1792 with the arrival of the British ship Discovery. Several of the displays at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve tell the story of these changes from the Tulalip perspective.
The initial contacts involved trade: the Europeans offered the Tulalip many different kinds of European manufactured goods in exchange for furs and food. The fur trade intensified after the Hudson’s Bay Company established For Langley in what is now British Columbia. Unfortunately, the European traders also brought with them epidemic diseases-smallpox, measles, chicken pox, influenza, tuberculosis, and alcoholism-which devastated the Native population. In a few short years, half of the population died.
The fur trade also brought over hunting which resulted in fewer animals. Then came the European and American settlers who ignored Native rights to the land and simply cleared the land they wanted for their homesteads. This culminated in the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855. Eighty-two chiefs attended the treaty conference near present-day Everett, Washington. Fifteen tribes signed over to the United States 10,000 square miles of their ancestral lands. Each of the tribes was to receive $150,000 in annuities to be delivered over a twenty year period
According to one display:
“Not everyone agreed that signing the treaty was a good idea. Some leaders felt they did not have a choice and that signing was the only way to preserve their traditional way of life for future generations.”
A copy of the treaty is shown above.
Under the reservation system established by the treaty, the people were impoverished. Laws and regulations were imposed on the people as to how they were to live and where they could fish, gather, and hunt. The boarding schools were designed to destroy tribal cultures.
The United States government sought to exterminate all vestiges of Native American religion and from 1884 to 1934 traditional Indian practices were illegal. The Indian Shaker Church was organized on the Tulalip Reservation in 1810 as a means to continue Native spirituality.
The exhibits at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve also tell a story of cultural revitalization: reviving Tulalip culture in the twenty-first century.
As with other American Indian nations, people from the Tulalip tribes in western Washington–Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skykomish, and others-have served in the American military during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One room in the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve honors the Tulalip veterans and tells many of their stories.
The drum shown above belongs to Raymond Moses who served in the Army during the Korean War from 1950-53. The drum depicts images of his guardian spirits; grizzly bears from his father’s side and wolf from his mother’s side. He had visions of his guardian spirits right before he stepped on a grenade that fortunately did not detonate.
While in the past, Indian veterans were denied the use of their traditional religions in dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, today this is not the case.
The Polson Museum in Hoquiam, Washington, has a room dedicated to “Common Land, Uncommon Cultures: Traditional Peoples of Grays Harbor.” Shown below are some photographs from these displays.
Shown above is an iron harpoon point. At the time of first contact with the Europeans, Indians were already familiar with iron. They made items such as the one shown above from meteorite iron.
Canoe paddles such as those shown above were designed with pointed ends. On the return stroke, paddlers rotated their paddles 90 degrees and kept the tips in the water to prevent water drips from spooking their prey. If done properly, the operation was virtually silent. In addition to providing stealth, the pointed ends also serve as stakes for the canoe when driven into the beach. The dark stain on the paddles was created by slightly charring the wood and rubbing it down with seal or salmon oil.
The people of the Tulalip tribes would traditionally spend the winter in their longhouses situated in permanent villages. During the winter months, a great deal of teaching would take place around the longhouse fires. During this time, the elders would pass on the family stories, songs, lineages, and moral teachings. According to the display:
“Our songs, dances, stories, basket designs and carvings are owned by certain families and are used only with their permission. Ownership of this knowledge may be given by families to particular family members, other selected people, or the whole tribe. We have a strict process of granting rights and permission to use this type of knowledge.”
Shown above is the entrance to the longhouse in the Hibulb Culture Center.
The poles shown above were carved about 1914 by William Shelton. As a young boy in the 1870s, he had been to the great potlatch house at Skagit Bay Head. In 1912, he advocated for a longhouse to be built on the Tulalip Bay. These posts were carved for this longhouse according to his childhood memories of the posts at the great potlatch house. The television screen provides visitors with the stories of the Tulalip peoples.
Shown above is the outside of the longhouse showing the shed roof configuration.