For Third Age News: Feb. 1997

Remembering the Cycle of the Season

Author: Dr. David A. Cameron

Photo caption: Drying Salmon on the Beach for Winter

By the beginning of February, winter has gotten old for most of us. This is especially true when it begins with heavy snows in mid-November and brings more for Christmas. We long for some sunny, warm days with their new green shoots of growth and the croaking of long-silent frogs in the wet places. Soon they will come, starting once again the cycle of the spring: stretching some muscles with outdoor walks, puttering around to check on how the flowers or berries came through the cold and wet.

This routine of the seasons, life closely tied with outside activities during the warmer, drier months and then inside for those of the rainy and cold has not changed really for thousands of years. It also was the cycle of the Indian people, an orderly routine which lasted for thousands of years in these same valleys, lowlands, and beaches.

Making one's food supply last through the lean winter months was the over riding concern then. That was the time for living off the bounty of the year. Just as now, it also was the time for families coming together, major religious celebrations, and indoor work on repairs and making new articles for the home and for gifts.

When April finally rolled around, sand rushes could be gathered and their little "skirts" peeled off to eat for greens. Salmon berry sprouts followed soon after, tasting a little like celery. May and June brought full activity along Puget Sound, a time for fishing and hunting, as well as gathering clams, cockles, and mussels from the beaches. With summer beginning, so were the strawberries and salmonberries, soon followed by the little wild blackberries and blackcaps, then salal and all the members of the blue and huckleberry family. Their ripening began in the islands and along the Sound, then spread predictably up the valleys and high mountains from Mt. Pugh to Indian Pass, Cady Ridge, and Stevens Pass.

During August hunters paddled and poled their canoes up the rivers, then followed well-worn trails into the interior basins to hunt for elk. The Sultan, Pilchuck, and North Fork Sauk rivers were all popular places for this. Meat was dried for winter, then back packed down to the waiting canoes. As men hunted, women and children and elders had an equally important role in the picking and drying of berries, often packed into brick-like loaves for later reconstituting as a stewed dessert or just nibbled. Bear, deer, and mountain goat also were brought in, the goat especially valuable for its long hair, which was woven into prized clothing and blankets. People of the Snohomish tribe also raised small dogs which were sheared for their hair, a breed somewhat like the Pomeranian.

Salmon runs began in August and lasted through the fall. These were the most vital food source and caught in a variety of practical and ingenious ways at traditional sites. Interestingly, those caught farther upstream were leaner and thus easier to dry for winter, becoming a valuable resource for trading with the people who lived closer to the salt water.

As the storms of October began, the people finished up blueberries above Index, goat hunting along the Cascade crest, and trading trips to and from their neighbors in eastern Washington. Returning from summer camps and visits, once again they could be found preparing their permanent winter houses for the coming darker days of winter.

In our county we had a substantial population of native people two centuries ago. When British, American, Spanish, French, Russian, Hawaiian, and even Fijian people began arriving about the time of the American Revolution, they brought with them a number of new diseases which devastated the Indian population within a few decades. Smallpox and measles were especially vicious among a people who never had needed to develop antibodies to them. As a result, we have no accurate census figures and even are not sure of all the permanent village sites.

We do know and remember that the Sauk-Suiattle people lived along the Sauk River in the northeastern county, with their main village at the beautiful Sauk Prairie northeast of Darrington. Stillaguamish people lived along the main river, the North Fork, and part way up the South Fork, with major villages at Arlington, Trafton, and the mouth of Jim Creek. Snohomish people had several bands and lived on southern Whidbey Island, Camano Island, Gedney (Hat) Island, along the coast from Warm Beach to Richmond Highlands and up the Snohomish, Pilchuck, and forks of the Skykomish and Snoqualmie rivers. Skykomish people had villages at Sultan, Startup, Gold Bar, and Index, while the Snoqualmie tribe had villages as far down that river as the forks below Monroe.

One of the Snohomish villages was located beneath a bluff at the southern tip of Camano Island, Camano Head. Hundreds of people probably made their home in the huge, multi-family split cedar plank houses, as the clam beds on Camano were (and are) well known for their abundance. One early summer day, just as first dawn was beginning to lighten the eastern sky, that village was destroyed.

A sound like thunder awakened the families living in the village across the water on the northwestern shore of Hat Island -- perhaps also the people at Hebolb, the major village in north Everett. Staring intently toward the source of the sound, all the Hat Island people could see was a huge, impenetratble cloud off in the distance, and then something black beneath it and growing closer. A tidal wave! Men, women, and children raced off the beach for the higher ground, but the water crashed into them and swept away its victims.

Many children especially were lost to the wave. As survivors slowly walked along the beach looking for bodies of their loved ones, they saw a small hand sticking out above the piles of driftwood. Hearing them approach, young Charlie Shelton sat up from among the logs which had protected him, a fortunate boy.

How many died when the bluff collapsed will never be known, nor how many perished across at Hat Island. Even Hebolb at the mouth of the Snohomish River below Legion Park took water. The old people remembered, though, and refused ever again to camp at Camano Head. There were other places to dig clams!

Perhaps three hundred feet of the bluff had given way, most of which now has been eroded back over the years. This slide happened roughly between 1820 and 1830, based upon the ages of those who witnessed it and passed along their memories.


Title: Remembering the Cycle of the Seasons
Author: Dr. David A. Cameron

This web page is hosted by Mamoun Sakkal AIA, architect