An Administrative History of Mount Rainier National Park
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The Indians of the Pacific Northwest held in awe the snowcapped volcanoes of the Cascade Range. Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood, with their looming presence on the horizon, frequent cloud caps, rumbling avalanches, and terrifying eruptions, inspired numerous legends about the spirits that were thought to inhabit them. The Indians' legends told of fiery eruptions in the distant past, of vicious feuds when the mountains hurled rocks at one another, of a great flood when all the lowlands were inundated, killing all creatures except the pure ones which climbed to the mountain tops and ascended ropes of arrows into the sky. In the Indians' view, humans offended the mountain spirits at their peril. [1]

It is very difficult today to separate legends and other facets of the Indians' relationship to Mount Rainier from the history of the area as a national park. Indian legends about the mountain held strong appeal for whites who sought to preserve and promote the mountain's scenic grandeur. Many white people who themselves felt a kind of reverence for Mount Rainier worked diligently to preserve Indian legends and place names in order to give Mount Rainier National Park a local accent. The best known work of this kind was John H. Williams's The Mountain That Was "God" (1911), in which the author contended that Puget Sound Indians had once perceived Mount Rainier, or "Takhoma," as the most dreadful of all the Pacific Northwest's volcanoes. Whether consciously or not, Williams and many others were, in effect, creating a history of Indians on Mount Rainier to suit their purpose of celebrating the mountain.


The story of Sluiskin, Mount Rainier's most famous Indian, reveals much about the complexity of the Indian relationship to Mount Rainier. [2] In 1870, Sluiskin served as guide to a party of white men who were intent on climbing Mount Rainier. As this early climbing party approached the lower slopes of the mountain, Sluiskin grew more and more despondent. Finally, on the eve of the ascent, he exhorted the white men not to attempt the climb or they would be punished by demons. He told his white companions of the angry spirit that animated "Takhoma" and inhabited a "lake of fire" in the summit crater. He refused to go farther. The white men, undaunted, successfully reached the summit the next day where they took shelter in the warm steam vents that Sluiskin had apparently alluded to, and returned to camp on the day following. Sluiskin, who had given them up for dead, greeted them with cries of "Skookum tillicum! Skookum tumtum!" ("Strong men! Brave hearts!") [3]

Many years later, in 1915, Sluiskin's identity became wreathed in mystery. A Yakima chief named Sluiskin claimed that it was he who had guided the climbing party, but others insisted that the original Sluiskin had belonged to another tribe. Articles appeared in the Tacoma Ledger. Tacoma Daily News, and Yakima Republic, variously disputing or supporting the old chief's claim. David Longmire, the son of James Longmire and a longtime resident in the area, stated that he knew three different Sluiskins. The dispute was never settled to anyone's satisfaction. [4] Years later, ethnologist Allan H. Smith made the original Sluiskin a Taidnapam (Upper Cowlitz) Indian rather than a Yakima. [5]

The significance of Sluiskin is that whites and Indians alike transformed the man into a symbol of the Indian relationship to the mountain. For the Yakima chief who claimed to be the guide of forty-five years earlier, the thing of importance was that the country had "once belonged to us." [6] This Chief Sluiskin told a local writer who was trying to test the veracity of his story that when he was a young man the climbing party had hired him on the pretense of surveying the line of the Yakima Indian Reservation established under the Yakima Treaty of 1855. That was why he had led the party to the mountain. For whites, Sluiskin had a different meaning. The story of Sluiskin's fireside oration became a metaphor for the Indians' dread of the mountain. The account of Sluiskin was the most familiar of many accounts by pioneer climbers of Mount Rainier which described the reluctance of their Indian guides to accompany them too far up the mountain. The Indian guide became a foil for demonstrating the climbers' courage and impetuosity, genuine as those character traits may have been. The image of the fearful native in a forbidding wilderness was not peculiar to Mount Rainier climbing accounts, but was practically a convention in the literature of nineteenth century exploration. It had special relevance to Mount Rainier National Park, however, because these nineteenth century pioneer climbs played such a crucial role in framing twentieth century Americans' perception of the mountain and its original inhabitants. The anecdotes about Sluiskin and other Indian guides were repeated so often that they became part of the mountain's mythology.

Sentiment about the mountain and Mount Rainier National Park shaped people's perceptions of the Indian relationship to Mount Rainier in other ways, too. In the twentieth century, Americans increasingly looked to national parks as places where they could find vestiges of their past. [7] Park patrons enjoyed the association of parklands and Indians. Next to their feeling of awe about the mountain, Indians were most often remembered for the seasonal use they made of the area to pick berries and hunt game. This also obtained a picturesque quality over the years in the context of the national park. Early settlers of Washington Territory told a story about Henry, a Yakima Indian and son of a chief. He was banished from his tribe for killing a medicine man, and forced to flee to the west side of the Cascades. Each spring, the story went, Henry vanished into the mountains with his poor squaws and lean ponies. He was nearly given up for dead, only to reappear in the fall, grinning to himself, with his wives looking plump and content and his ponies laden with venison and dried berries. Asked by whites to reveal where his hunting ground was, Henry always shook his head, and the reputation of his secret hunting ground grew each year. Finally a man succeeded in trailing the old Indian to his summer camp on the southwest side of Mount Rainier, a place that became known as Indian Henry's Hunting Ground. Within a few years a permanent trail was built to this flower-strewn meadow and it became one of the popular backcountry destinations in the national park. [8] That Henry was a real person, whose Indian name was So-to-lick, mattered less than the fact that his story captured the imagination of so many local residents. The story was another example of how Indian use of Mount Rainier became intertwined with local mythology about the mountain.

Mount Rainier National Park, like other national parks, commemorated Indians' past use of the area through Indian place names. White Americans' fondness for Indian names has been described as a form of nationalism, for it celebrated what was distinctively American. [9] Americans were nowhere more enthusiastic about Indian place names than in national parks, with their aim to preserve the American heritage. Sometimes the use of Indian names in national parks was undertaken with the benefit of native informants and ethnographic data, as was the case in Glacier National Park, Montana, where ethnologist George Bird Grinnell restored original Indian names to many of the park's natural features. In other cases, Indian names were applied more whimsically. In Mount Rainier National Park many glaciers, rivers, parks, and waterfalls took their names from Indian individuals and groups associated with the area, or from the old trading language known as Chinook jargon. The names Nisqually, Cowlitz, Yakima, and Puyallup came from tribes in the region; Sluiskin from the famous guide; Owyhigh from a Yakima chief; Mowich from the Chinook jargon term for deer; Ollala from the term for berries; Mazama from the term for mountain goat. The practice of using names of Indian origin, wrote Park Naturalist Floyd Schmoe, was "far more in keeping with the policy of the National Park Service than that of bestowing the names of more or less obscure people, as so often happens." [10]

Indian place names sometimes originated from contemporary events rather than original Indian names for that particular place. In the early 193Os, as the road to Yakima Park neared completion and plans developed for a hotel development there, boosters in the Puget Sound region lobbied for changing the name of this broad ridgetop to Sunrise in order to avoid confusion with the city of Yakima. The Yakima Chamber of Commerce wanted to retain the name Yakima Park. L. V. McWhorter, a rancher, writer, and friend of the Yakima Indians, pushed for an Indian name, either Me-yah-ah Pah or "Owhi's Meadow," in honor of a Yakima chief. [11] McWhorter described in some detail how Owhi's band had used Yakima Park for a summer hunting ground and a place to engage in horse racing and other events of the season.

Sham battles were staged there, and warriors rehearsed their feats of skill and daring, and there were foot-racing and wrestling and the playing of games now forgotten except by a very few of the old Indians. Dancing, wooing, religious ceremonies, wailing for the dead—all the things that were a part of the oldtime Indian life are associated with this place. [12]

McWhorter made a strong case, but he did not wield as much influence as the advocates of Sunrise and Yakima Park. The NPS found a tactful way to settle this dispute by using the name Sunrise for the development site, Yakima Park for the physical land form, and Owhi (in altered form) for the Owyhigh Lakes.

The passion for Indian names in national parks may have reached a climax in the furor over the name of Mount Rainier itself, which many local citizens wanted to change to Mount Tacoma. This battle raged on for many years and fixed in many people's minds the idea that "Tacoma" was the Puget Sound Indians' word for "The Mountain That Was God." Opponents of the name change insisted that Tacoma was merely a generic term for snow-capped peak. The controversy came to involve much more than an interest in historical accuracy, for citizens of Tacoma saw an opportunity to associate their city with the national park and the tourism revenue it generated. [13] Citizens of Seattle and other communities around the mountain saw the name change as a crass, commercial gimmick masterminded by the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce. The controversy showed how something as "Indian" as the name of the mountain could be appropriated by whites and invested with meanings that were practically unrelated to any real Indian concerns. This was one fight for the restoration of an Indian name that the NPS assiduously avoided.


Folklore about Indians and Mount Rainier was not the only way in which the national park celebrated the past through Indians. In 1925, Yakima Indians agreed to perform for tourists at Paradise Park, on the south flank of Mount Rainier. They held daily drum dances, rode horses, and demonstrated their spear fishing. Their leader was none other than Chief Sluiskin. The Rainier National Park Company, a concession operation, sponsored the events. The agreement soon broke down, apparently because the Indians proved unwilling to pose for souvenir photographs. [14] While the NPS was not averse to this activity and occasionally arranged similar events in other parks, it apparently did not become involved with this one. [15]

At the same time that these Indians were performing some of their people's traditional uses of the park for the amusement of hotel guests at Paradise, other Indians were continuing to visit Mount Rainier to gather huckleberries which they dried for food. That they did not receive the same attention as the performing Indians was not surprising. At that time Indian use of the park did not match whites' preconceptions of Indians in nature. "The Indian of today," wrote Park Naturalist Floyd Schmoe,

has lost much of his former picturesqueness. Although the women still carry their "papooses" in a shawl on their backs and use some very remarkable baskets made by their mothers from the local Squaw grass, it is more common to see them arrive in closed cars than upon wiry mountain ponies, and although some of them still employ the Chinook jargon, or tribal dialects, typical American slang phrases are as frequently heard. [16]

Such an invidious comparison underscored how the national park setting shaped people's perceptions of contemporary and historical Indian use of the area.

The Mountain that was God
The Indian relationship to Mount Rainier has been much romanticized. In the 1920s the concessioner marketed the national park with this stylized image of Indians worshipping "The Mountain that was God." (Rainier National Park Company publicity photo courtesy of Mount Rainier National Park)

The conflict in the public's mind between romanticized Indians like those who performed for tourists at Paradise Park, and Indians who still used the park's natural resources was at no time more evident than in 1915-17, when Chief Sluiskin and his band of Indians from the Yakima Reservation pressed for their perceived right to hunt in the park under the Yakima Treaty of 1855. The incidents leading up to the arrests of six Indians in 1917 and the official correspondence surrounding them is worth reviewing, for the case was precedent-setting and revealed much about the ambiguities of NPS-Indian relations. A Department of the Interior solicitor's opinion in 1915 held that the federal government could not prohibit Indian hunting in the park. But the NPS's chief clerk, J.J. Cotter, advised one year later that the solicitor's opinion had been superseded by a state law and two court opinions. As a result of this legal premise, park administrators continued to forbid hunting by Indians.

The issue of treaty protected hunting rights first came to light in July 1915, when Ranger Thomas E. O'Farrell was passing through Yakima Park, northeast of the mountain, and found the remains of an Indian camp. The camp included a wigwam and two horse corrals, all of which were built from timber cut down in the area. Large quantities of bones and other animal remains lay about. O'Farrell reported to Supervisor DeWitt L. Reaburn that "bands of natives" had been making annual visits to the park to hunt deer, and he wanted to be advised whether they had treaty rights. If they had no such rights, he wanted to know what steps he should take to end this practice. Reaburn forwarded O'Farrell's letter to the Secretary of the Interior. The Department replied that in order to make a determination, it was necessary to know to which tribe the Indians belonged. [17]

Knowing that the Indians usually encamped at Yakima Park in late summer, O'Farrell sent his two assistant rangers, Leonard Rosso and Arthur White, back there at the end of August. Rosso and White found about thirty Yakima Indians encamped in the high meadow with their leader, Sluiskin. Using a Yakima woman interpreter, they told Sluiskin that it was against the law to hunt game in the park. Sluiskin referred the rangers to the Walla Walla Treaty that his nation's chief had signed sixty years earlier in 1855. Sluiskin believed that the treaty reserved rights to hunt, gather, and fish on all open and unclaimed lands formerly belonging to the Yakima tribe. Rosso and White did not press the issue with Sluiskin, but reported to Reaburn that the Indians claimed rights under the Walla Walla Treaty. [18] Reaburn wired the Secretary on September 1, 1915:

The Yakima Indians under Chief Sluiskin are now on a hunting expedition in the northeast corner of the park. They refuse to obey the ranger's orders claiming the right to hunt and kill as they please, but say they will slaughter only what is needed. [19]

Assistant Secretary Bo Sweeney submitted the matter to the Department's solicitor, noting that the treaty's restriction of Indian hunting rights to "open and unclaimed land" probably meant that the treaty right did not extend "within the metes and bounds" of Mount Rainier National Park. [20] But the solicitor's opinion, given three weeks later, surprised him.

Solicitor Preston C. West argued that the act of 1899 establishing Mount Rainier National Park did not terminate the Indians' treaty right to hunt game within the boundaries of the park. First, the solicitor argued, the national park did not remove the area from the status of "open and unclaimed land" as it was construed in the treaty. West referred to the longstanding principle in federal Indian law which required the courts to resolve all ambiguities of meaning in Indian treaties according to how they had been understood by the Indians. The Indians who signed the Walla Walla Treaty of 1855, West presumed, recognized ''open and unclaimed land'' as land that was not settled upon or appropriated by claimants under the general land laws. The treaty's Indian signers, West argued, "intended to reserve the right to hunt on the open and unclaimed lands as effectually as they reserved the right to fish in waters outside the reservation described in the treaty for their use." [21]

Second, the act of 1899 did not specifically address hunting by Indians. With respect to the protection of game, the act of 1899 gave the Secretary authority "to provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit." Looking at the treaty right issue in the context of 1855, West argued, it did not seem that either party had in view the wanton destruction of game or hunting by the Indians for the purposes of merchandise and profit. Therefore, wrote West, "the law of 1899 simply stated specifically what was necessarily implied in the treaty." Since the treaty language appeared not to have given the Indians the right to destroy game wantonly or to hunt game for the market, West reasoned that the act of 1899 had taken nothing away. It followed that the Indians' right to hunt for their subsistence within the park had not been taken away by the law of 1899, either. This did not mean that subsistence hunting by Indians was not subject to regulation, West hastened to add. Since the act of 1899 gave the Secretary of the Interior broad authority to fulfill the purposes of the park, and the park was created for the public's enjoyment, "the Indians must exercise their privilege in such manner as not to defeat this expressed purpose." In sum, West believed that Indian hunting rights and national park purposes were in fact compatible under carefully drawn regulations. [22]

This was a remarkable formulation. In effect, it called for park administrators to treat the Indian groups who had made traditional use of Mount Rainier as living cultures rather than historical artifacts. Nothing in the solicitor's opinion suggested that Indians who hunted in the park would in any way enhance the public's enjoyment; the intent was not to put them on display as the Rainier National Park Company did at Paradise Park in 1925. West merely supposed that subsistence use of the park by Indians would be benign from the standpoint of protecting park resources, and that the public could be persuaded to tolerate it.

Unfortunately, this idea clashed with the popular conception of national parks as vestiges of America's past. When Indians hunted in national parks, it stirred images in the public's mind of picturesque noble savages and white-Indian conflict. A writer for the Tacoma Ledger, for example, could not resist reporting the incident as if it were a humorous throwback to the Indian Wars. For the first time in the park's history, government officials had " an Indian hunt," the newspaper stated. "The result was a bag of four Indian bucks, two squaws, 20 head of horses and 'artillery' consisting of three fine rifles." The report gave details of the "chase," the officials' cautious advance on the "Indian encampment," the curious "federal court" held in an automobile, and the confiscation of the Indians' "artillery." From the newspaper's standpoint, the incident closed with "the departure of six sad but wiser Indians, gladdened somewhat by the return of their horses and other trappings, to their native hunting grounds in the Yakima country." [23] In contrast to the solicitor's opinion, the journalist assumed, as his readers probably did as well, that Indians had no place in the national park except as symbols of America's frontier past. Perhaps it was for this reason that no one in the Department followed West's advice to draft park regulations that would be sensitive to Indian hunting rights.

The Department may have chosen to ignore the solicitor's opinion for another reason as well. It ran counter to the current trend in game law for increased state jurisdiction over game management, including hunting of game by Indians outside Indian reservations. Shortly after West wrote his opinion, the Washington State Supreme Court decided in State v. Towessnute that Yakima Indians outside their reservation were subject to the state game laws. The following year, in June 1916, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision affirming the right of the State of New York to regulate fishing by Seneca Indians on lands which that tribe had ceded to the United States. The Washington State Game Commission brought these facts to the attention of national park and national forest administrators in Washington in October 1916.24 A further development that bore on the issue of Indian treaty rights in Mount Rainier National Park was the Act of Congress of June 30, 1916, which accepted the cession by the State of Washington of exclusive jurisdiction over the lands embraced within the park. This act clarified the authority of park officials to make arrests. [25]

The initiative to end subsistence hunting by Indians in the park came from local authorities—seasonal park rangers, state and county game wardens, newspaper editors—and not from any general policy that was crystallizing in the national park system bureaucracy. On October 28, 1916, Supervisor Reaburn wired Superintendent of National Parks Robert B. Marshall that the band of Yakima Indians was back in the park hunting game. "Shall we arrest them and bring them before the park commissioner," read the telegram, "instructions desired immediately." Marshall replied affirmatively. [26] Although the decision finally came from NPS officials in Washington, D.C., these officials were responding to the pressure of events at the local level.

If Reaburn acted immediately on Marshall's instruction, he failed to catch any Indian violators that season. The following summer, Reaburn stationed Park Ranger O.W. Curtis in Yakima Park. When word came from Curtis of the Indians' presence there in early October 1917, Reaburn responded with haste. Starting out from headquarters at Longmire with Ranger John Yorke and Commissioner Edward S. Hall, he drove his automobile all day on rough and circuitous roads clockwise around the outside of the park to the White River, which he reached shortly after dark; then, leaving two hours before light the next morning with Yorke, he hiked on foot up to the Indians' encampment. They arrested six Indians in the possession of freshly skinned deer hides, and brought them back down to the White River for a "court" appointment with Commissioner Hall beside Reaburn's automobile. As the Indians offered no resistance and pleaded guilty to the charge of illegal hunting, Hall gave them all light fines. [27]

That the new NPS lacked a definite policy on subsistence hunting by Indians was further demonstrated by the drawn out correspondence which ensued between senior officials of the NPS and the Office of Indian Affairs over the proper disposition of the three confiscated rifles. Assistant Director Horace M. Albright wanted to use the occasion of returning these items to the Indians to make an official announcement that the Indians' treaty rights did not extend to the park. Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs E.B. Meritt initially opposed having the BIA be a party to any such announcement. Reaburn finally worked out a compromise with the Yakima Reservation's superintendent, Don M. Carr. The warning that these officials issued to the Indians is not in the records, but the arrests evidently had the desired effect. [28]


With the advent of ranger naturalists in the park in the 1 920s, the NPS made a more concerted effort to compile information about Indian lore and past resource use in the area. In some sense this marked a change from a popular conception of Indians and Mount Rainier to a more sophisticated understanding. Park naturalists collected numerous references to Indians in their mimeographed periodical, Mount Rainier Nature Notes, and tried to present a balanced picture of the area's indigenous people to park visitors. Yet the cultural phenomenon of the national park continued to control how the Indians' relationship to Mount Rainier was interpreted. The mere fact that Americans came to expect memorialization of Indians in their national parks inevitably created a false picture of Indians. Indians became an adornment for the nation' s scenic wonderlands—picturesque, nostalgic, and innocuous. In the hands of the park's naturalists, the Indian past in Mount Rainier National Park was sentimental and compliant with the park's purpose.

In 1963, the NPS contracted with Washington State University for an archeological survey of the park and a search of the ethnographic literature on Indian use of the Mount Rainier area. Richard D. Daugherty led the archeological survey and Allan H. Smith produced an ethnographic guide. [29] Inasmuch as the national park boundaries determined the scope of both projects, it seemed that the presence of Mount Rainier National Park continued to shape how past Indian use of the area was reconstructed. The influence of the national park was particularly apparent in the ethnographic study, in which Smith produced a map of the park divided into pie-shaped wedges that purported to represent the hunting and gathering areas of the various Indian groups surrounding Mount Rainier. In the text of his report, Smith protested that such territories were vague and overlapping, and to represent them on a map with lines was to distort their meaning to the aboriginal Indians; still, the organization of his report led irresistibly to this map. Despite these problems, however, the companion studies by Smith and Daugherty represented a big step forward in what was known about Indians and Mount Rainier.

The archeological survey discovered one significant site: a rock shelter near Fryingpan Creek, east of Goat Island Mountain. The shelter was not inhabited year round. All artifacts found at the site were associated with hunting. The cultural affinities of the site pointed to its use by Columbia Plateau Indians some 300 to 1,000 years ago. Based on the archeological and climatological record for the surrounding region, Daugherty suggested that prehistoric humans had used the Mount Rainier area most heavily between 4,500 and 8,000 years ago, but the only evidence of such early use was one projectile point found in a cut on the Bench Lake Trail whose style dated from 6,000 years ago. The NPS sponsored a more complete archeological study of the Fryingpan Rockshelter in 1964. [30]

Smith based his ethnographic guide to the park on the kinds of aboriginal use in the Pacific Northwest which were associated with the four climatic-biotic zones found in the park. These zones included the Humid Transitional zone, consisting of dense, lowland forest up to approximately 3,000 feet above sea level; the Canadian zone, characterized by subalpine forest from approximately 3,000 to 5,500 feet elevation; the Hudsonian zone of alpine meadows and scattered groves of trees; and the Arctic-Alpine zone where bare rock and permanent snowfields predominated. All of these zones possessed distinctive assemblages of plants and animals which Indians used to varying extent. Another factor was ease of access; the White, Ohanapecosh and Nisqually river valleys provided approaches for Puget Sound Indians from the north, south, and west, while Plateau Indians reached the area by mountain passes on the east. [31]

Smith conducted interviews with elderly Indians and combed the ethnographic literature for references to aboriginal use of Mount Rainier. He found no evidence to indicate that there had been any permanent habitation by Indians within the park boundaries. Rather, aboriginal use consisted of forays into the area for hunting and gathering and for occasional spirit quests. Puget Sound Indians hunted and gathered in small groups. The women gathered various plants (chiefly huckleberries and possibly Claytonia roots and medicinal herbs) while the men hunted, singly or in groups of two or three, for deer, elk, bear, mountain goat, and small mammals and birds. Indians from the Columbia Plateau visited the area in larger bands, usually bringing their horses, and exploited virtually the same resources. The most intensive use occurred in late summer and fall when the huckleberries ripened. [32]

When Smith came to differentiating between Indian groups who used the park aboriginally, he emphasized that his conclusions were more tenuous. The Cascade Range formed a natural barrier between Puget Sound and Plateau Indians, though there was significant trade and even intermarriage across the mountains, and the linguistic grouping of Salish and Sahaptian speakers spanned both sides of the Cascade Range as well. Moreover, it was problematic whether Indian "tribes" in the region, particularly on the Puget Sound side of the Cascades, reflected linguistic, cultural, geographic, or political entities. These caveats aside, Smith identified five Indian groups which used the Mount Rainier area: Nisqually, Puyallup, Muckleshoot, Yakima, and Taidnapam. The Yakimas of the Columbia Plateau were organized into bands; the other four groups were organized chiefly around their permanent winter villages on the lower Nisqually, Puyallup, White, and upper Cowlitz rivers respectively. In the Puget Sound Indians' case, Smith noted, Mount Rainier represented the farthest reaches of the major river drainage which each group occupied. [33]

Smith argued that Indian concepts of territoriality were highly flexible. In general, Indians recognized crests between drainages as the limits of their group's territory, but the importance that they attached to such boundaries faded the farther they went from their group's "population center." Stressing that there must have been considerable overlap between such territories, Smith suggested that the Nisquallys had used the upper Nisqually and Paradise river drainages and the Tatoosh Range; the Puyallups had used the west side of Mount Rainier and Carbon River valley; the Muckleshoots had used the upper White River drainage on the north side of Mount Rainier; the Yakimas had used the high parks on the east side of the mountain from Yakima Park to Cowlitz Divide; and the Taidnapam had used the Ohanapecosh River and Muddy Fork drainages. [34]

Subsequent studies of the Yakima and Puget Sound Indians tended to deflate Smith's argument that the area of the park was at one time divided among five Indian groups. Although Smith's report stood as the last scholarly investigation of the ethnographic sources on aboriginal use of Mount Rainier, his conceptual approach was superseded. Later anthropologists started with the premise that political and territorial divisions between Indian groups in the Puget Sound region were inconsequential or nonexistent before the treaties of 1854-55. Neighboring groups were linked by kinship ties, joint ceremonial gatherings, and use of common territory. Groups within each major river drainage had especially strong ties, but there were no breaks in the social network, which extended throughout the southern Puget Sound region and even over the mountains. There were no formal political institutions uniting the villages in each drainage into a tribe. Such tribal divisions as existed after the treaties of 1854-55 were weakly defined and imposed from outside by the treaty-makers. One of the purposes of the treaties was to create political entities that, in theory, would facilitate federal—Indian relations in Washington Territory. [35]

Each of the treaties described a distinct cession of land to the United States by the undersigned chiefs, headmen, and delegates of the designated tribes. The area that became Mount Rainier National Park touched on three of these land cessions. The Treaty of Medicine Creek, concluded in December 1854 with representatives of the Nisqually, Puyallup, Steilacoom, Squaxin, and other bands, extinguished Indian title to an area around the south end of Puget Sound and eastward to the crest of the Cascade Range. The Treaty of Point Elliot, concluded a few weeks later in January 1855, encompassed all of the western slope of the Cascade Range in Washington Territory north of the area ceded by the Treaty of Medicine Creek, including what became the northeast portion of Mount Rainier National Park. The Treaty with the Yakama of June 9, 1855 described a land cession boundary "commencing at Mount Ranier" (sic) and circling around the Columbia Plateau to "the main ridge of the Cascade Mountains; and thence along said ridge to the place of beginning." It was many years before surveys revealed that Mount Rainier lay west of the Cascade summit, making this description ambiguous. In any case, it was unclear exactly what the boundaries implied. Article III of the treaty reserved to the Indians "the privilege of hunting, gathering roots and berries, and pasturing their horses and cattle upon open and unclaimed land," but did not stipulate whether this privilege extended beyond the boundaries of the land cession to all accustomed hunting and gathering places. [36] There is no question that Yakima Indians did cross the Cascade summit to hunt and gather in what is now Mount Rainier National Park.

Ethnobotanist Eugene S. Hunn discussed the Yakimas' hunting and gathering in the Cascade Range in Nch'i-Wana "The Big River" (1990). He noted that the Plateau environment did not afford the Yakimas an abundant supply of big game, and that hunting made up a much smaller portion of their diet than fishing and gathering. The Yakimas hunted year-round, but fall was their most productive season, for then they established camps in high mountain meadows where the women gathered berries and the men hunted elk and deer. Interestingly, Hunn's informants told him that the Yakimas did not hunt the hoary marmot. "In the Indian world view it is associated with preternatural beings, the little people, whose whistling might seduce the lone hunter, calling him ever on until he loses all track of time, space, and identity. This species of 'alpine madness' is much feared and, it seems, inhibits the exploitation of the potential resources of the zone above timberline." [37] Though Hunn did not specifically address the Yakimas' use of the Mount Rainier area (his key informants, James Selam and family, described their use of the alpine meadows between Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens) his work suggested that there was more to be learned about the Yakimas and Mount Rainier.

Hunn related how he and Selam, returning to the Selam family's hunting and berrying ground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1983, found the meadows less extensive than formerly. This was an inevitable consequence of eighty years of fire suppression, and aptly illustrated one more way in which the Indian past was important to Mount Rainier National Park. Wrote Hunn:

An old-time ranger I met at the Naches Ranger Station recalled how he used to rave at the Indians for their "carelessness" with fire, as frequent fires were attributed to them during the late summer season. What the ranger failed to appreciate was the fact that fire is one of the Indians' most powerful tools of food production. Fire creates sunny openings in the forest, creates edges that foster the rapid spread of nutritious herbs and shrubs, most notably the black mountain huckleberry and related species, blueberry and grouseberry. . . . Such zones of increased natural productivity draw deer and elk within the hunter's range as well. Though knowledge of the traditional use of intentional burning to create favorable habitat has been all but forgotten by contemporary Plateau Indians, evidence.., shows that the ecological role of fire was known and manipulated in complex ways by Indians from California to Canada. [38]

Park officials long recognized that Indians who annually visited the Mount Rainier area made it their practice to set fires as they left the area each fall. "Burning made the country better for the Indians," explained Grenville F. Allen, a former supervisor of Mount Rainier National Park and member of the U.S. Forest Service when he wrote Forests of Mount Rainier National Park in 1922. "The fires kept down the brush and made it more accessible. Deer could be more easily seen and tracked and the huckleberry patches spread more widely over the hills." [39] Even before Mount Rainier National Park was established, Fred Plummer of the General Land Office surveyed the forest reserve and reported thousands of acres had been burned, much of it intentionally.

What changed from Allen's and Plummer's time to Hunn's was less the awareness of Indian burning than foresters' perception of it. For most foresters in the first half of the twentieth century, intentional burning might make sense from the standpoint of a hunting and gathering people but it was wasteful from the standpoint of modern forest conservation. Indeed, as foresters moved toward their goal of total fire suppression, they lumped the logger's practice of burning slash with the homesteader's and Indian's practice of burning underbrush or making forest clearings all under the derogatory label of "Paiute forestry." [40] Taking their cue from modern forestry, NPS officials, like the Forest Service ranger in Hunn's account, failed to appreciate the Indians' practice of setting fires. Moreover, they saw no reason to preserve the Indians' role in the fire ecology of the area. It was only with the NPS's new fire policy in 1968 that some national parks began to use "underburning" as a means of restoring plant diversity in some areas. Essentially, the new policy was an attempt to mimic the part that Indians had once played in manipulating the forest ecology. Prescribed burning remained uncommon in the national park system and was not applied in Mount Rainier.

In summary, the relationship of Indians to Mount Rainier is a complex one. Inasmuch as the national park is a celebration of the American heritage, it has made Indians like Sluiskin and Henry into symbols. Although Indian use of the area predated the establishment of the national park, the national park reshaped the Indians' relationship to Mount Rainier by profoundly influencing the way the Indian past was reconstructed. Indian legends concerning Mount Rainier and anecdotes concerning Indian use of the area were distorted at the same time that they were amplified by the existence of the national park. Furthermore, Indian use of the park was altered at the same time that past Indian use of the area was romanticized. Indian use of the area continued for several years after it became a national park. Hunting and gathering clashed with local citizens' views about how the national park should be used; these practices also clashed with the implementation of federal land management responsibilities.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2000