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Chapter 1

The North Cascades present a barrier to moisture-laden winds from the Pacific Ocean. Consequently the western side of the range has a high rainfall and dense vegetation (up to 190 inches of rainfall annually on the slopes). When whites first came to the area, the level land along the coast, particularly the delta of Skagit River and the lower river itself, was covered with forest. Along the shore of Puget Sound and the banks of the river the Indians erected their villages in scattered clearings. They traveled mostly by water because of the thick vegetation. The sea provided an abundance of food, the climate was moderate, and the Skagit Indians lived a life of relative wealth and ease.

Across the mountains, on the semi-arid plateaus of the Columbia Basin, the Indians knew a somewhat harder life. The Thompson, Okanogan, Methow, Wenatchee, and other groups worked harder for their subsistence. Influenced by the open grasslands and the horse (acquired in the eighteenth century), they evolved a way of life somewhat different from that of the coastal tribes.

Yet from times unknown the interior Indians made contact with the coastal tribes. Each influenced the other. They exchanged ideas and trade goods. Each too felt the influence of other neighbors. The Puget Sound Indians had had many grim experiences at the hands of the powerful, war-like Haidas from the northern coast of British Columbia. The plateau tribes knew their neighbors to the east: the Yakimas, Nez Perces, Sanpoils, Kalispels, etc., and were influenced by the Indians of the buffalo country still farther east.

Skagit Indians

The shores and islands of Puget Sound and the many rivers that drain into it contained a large number of small tribes or groups. Most of them belonged to the coastal branch of the Salishan linguistic stock. However, it was not uncommon that the various groups found it difficult to understand one another, so different were their dialects. Along the east side of the Sound lived such tribes as the Semiahmoo, Swinomish, Nooksack, Lummi, Samish, Snohomish, and Skagit.


Different students have described the small Skagit tribe in different ways. Edward S. Curtis wrote that these Indians lived on the lowlands of the Skagit delta, along the wash in that vicinity, on the northern half of Camano island, on the upper eastern shore of Whidbey island, and on the eastern part of Swinomish island. [2] John B. Swanton described their locations as being on the Skagit and Stillaguamish Rivers, "except about their mouths." At the mouth of the Skagit he placed the Swinomish group, which he said was sometimes considered to be a subdivision of the Skagits. [3]

This seeming confusion is due possibly to the Skagits' possessing only vague concepts of being a tribe. They referred to themselves as "the people" (Hum-a-luh). More properly they were a collection of bands or villages by no means united into one political system. Only rarely, such as in the face of an enemy, did they ally to serve a common interest. Swanton has identified ten subdivisions of the group:

Baseleltsed, on the Skagit, from present Van Horn to three miles above Rockport and Sauk river, almost to the mouth of Suiattle Creek, including the village of Tcagwalk at the mouth of the Sauk river.

Baskadsadsiuk, on the south bank of the Skagit, from Hamilton to Birdsview, including a village opposite Hamilton.

Basekwiuk, on the Skagit, above Rockport, including a village at Marblemount (presently a district ranger station, but outside the park boundary) at the mouth of the Cascade.

Basohalok, on the north bank of the Skagit, from Hamilton to Birdsview, including a settlement at Hamilton.

Nookachamps, on the Skagit, from Mount Vernon to Sedro Woolley and Nookachamps river drainage, including Tslatlabsh on Big Lake, and a village back of Mount Vernon.

Sauk, on the Sauk, above confluence of Suiattle, including a settlement on Sauk prairie above Darrington.

Sbaleuk, on the Skagit, from above Birdsview to above Concrete, including a village at Concrete.

Sikwigwilts. on the Skagit, from Sedro Woolley to below Lyman, including a village on the flats near Sedro Woolley.

Suiattle, on the Suiattle, including a village near its mouth.

Tcubaabish, on the Skagit, from Lyman to below Hamilton, including Day Creek drainage and a village at the mouth of Day.

Accurate census figures of the Skagits are difficult to find. When the first white explorers arrived toward the end of the eighteenth century, perhaps as many as 1,000 Indians occupied this area. Gov. I.I. Stevens reported in 1855 that there were then only 300 Skagits. In 1877, the same number had survived the rigors of civilization. The 1910 census could account for only 56, the lowest number in modern times. Since then the number has increased, as with other Indians throughout the nation. The population of the group today, on and off the reservations, is probably more than 250. [4]

The Puget Sound Indians, including the Skagits, lived in permanent villages. But the people themselves were inveterate travelers. By canoes, where possible, and by foot trails, where necessary, they visited neighboring tribes along the sound and climbed into the Cascades to hunt and to collect berries and root foods at the appropriate seasons. They used the abundant and easily-split cedar to construct their homes in the permanent villages. Each of these large structures held a number of families, each family having its own partitioned room and separate entrance. Occasionally these houses were square, but more commonly they were rectangular buildings, 30 to 40 feet wide and up to 100 feet long. Sleeping platforms ran around the room while reed mats covered the floor. A rich man might also line his walls with mats. The roofs of the Skagits' houses are said to have had a single pitch, that is, a shed roof. This type of construction differed from the houses of many other Sound tribes which had a gable roof. During their summer trips into the mountains, the Skagits erected temporary shelters of poles and mats made of bullrushes. [5]

Political Organization

Politically, the Skagits were but loosely organized as a group or tribe. Each band or village was independent of the others, allying only when threatened by external dangers or, rarely, when intent on some common cause such as an offensive against another tribe. Internally the organization of a band was complex. Every man had his place in the social structure, acquired through inheritance, and no two men were exactly equal. Although houses, canoes, and so forth were held in common, the concept of wealth played an important role. Gained through inheritance or in warfare, one's wealth reflected one's social status. The "privileged ones," the chiefs and nobles, possessed the greater share of wealth, be it copper, furs, or rare shells. These leaders maintained their positions through such things as ostentatious potlatches or a large number of slaves.


The Sound Indians acquired their slaves by warring on neighboring groups or by kidnapping. A slave possessed no status whatever. An owner might decide to kill a number of them for the purpose of displaying his nobility by giving up his property so readily. Adult males captured in warfare were usually promptly butchered anyway; otherwise these captives would try to escape eventually. [6]

Potlatches, etc.

Like other Indians of the Northern Pacific coast, the Skagits erected memorial (totem) poles, carved wooden masks, decorated house timbers, made wooden boxes, bowls, and household utensils. In all these activities, however, they were much less active than the Indians farther north, along the British Columbia coast. They also indulged in the potlatch, a feast whereat the host proved his wealth and generosity by giving away his possessions. In some of the larger villages along the Sound stood large potlatch houses, one of which was said to be over 500 feet long. A round or oval hole covered by a suspended board marked the entrance to these cedar structures; often too the timbers were carved and painted. The Skagit News, in 1885, described a late-day potlatch:

Last Sunday the Skagit Indians inaugurated a great "potlatch" on the upper river above Sauk. The maker of the potlatch gathers up his wealth and treasures of blankets, horses, guns, etc., and when he has sufficient wealth he announces a grand potlatch (gift), to which all the allied tribes may come. . . . as the day approaches, hundreds of canoes are seen going to the potlatch house. Here there is a general making of presents. The potlatch, is given to aid an aspirant to political honors or on general principles. When one Indian becomes too wealthy, a potlatch is obligatory.

Another issue of the paper referred to an "old potlatch house," saying that the Indians had painted the image of "the old serpent" on its posts. [7]

Physical Characteristics

Physically the Skagits were short but thick-set, their limbs strong but bow-legged. They had broad faces, widely spaced eyes, and prominent noses. They wore their hair long and usually loose. Along the Sound, the Indians wore ear ornaments, rings, and necklaces, but probably did not pierce their noses. They tattooed their bodies, but not to the extent of some other coastal tribes. One of the best known customs of these people was that of flattening their foreheads. It was this custom, mistakenly attributed to the misnamed Flathead tribe of Idaho and western Montana (who did not flatten their heads), that lead to the Protestant missionary endeavor in the Pacific Northwest in the 1830s and 1840s.

Paul Kane described the process:

The Indian mothers all carry their infants strapped to a piece of board covered with moss or loose fibres of cedar bark, and in order to flatten the head they place a pad on the infants' forehead, on the top of which is laid a piece of smooth bark, bound on by a leathern band passing through holes in the board on either side, and kept tightly pressed across the front of the head. . . . The process commences with the birth of the infant, and is continued for a period of from eight to twelve months, by which time the head has . . . acquired [the shape] of a wedge. [8]


Both men and women wore little clothing. In contrast to the elaborate dress of the interior tribes, the men wore simply a blanket made of dog hair, sometimes mixed with bird's down and bark fiber, animal skins, or goat wool. They fastened this at the neck with a wooden pin. The women were a little more modest, wearing a bark "apron" under their blanket. Both sexes wore cone-shaped, waterproof hats made of colored grasses as protection against the ever-lasting rains. Both went barefooted. Some of them traded for the tailored skin clothing made by the interior tribes; these they reserved for winter use. [9]


Originally the Skagits' weapons consisted of the bow and arrow and war clubs, made of wood, bone, or stone. Captain George Vancouver, RN, described a bow of very fine workmanship that he saw. It was 2-1/2—3 feet long, made from a naturally curved yew, and backed with a strip of elastic hide or snake skin firmly cemented. [10]


Myron Eells, a missionary among the Puget Sound Indians, described at length the canoes of these people. Before turning to Eells' account one should note that the Puget Sound Indians did not build nor use the fabled ocean-going war canoes of the Haidas of northern British Columbia. However, they did employ three different kinds: 1. The large or Chinook canoe, 2. The Twana fishing canoe, and 3. The shovel canoe. All were dugouts made from the cedar. The Indians burned the log out, then finished the interior and exterior with stone hand adzes. Next they steamed the log by filling it with water and hot stones. This caused the hollowed log to spread at which time the maker fastened in cross-pieces, or thwarts, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Cedar rope passed through the ends of the crosspieces and the sides of the canoe holding the crosspiece in place. A one-inch rim of fir ran around the edge of the canoe as protection against wear from paddling. In the early historic period, the Indians charred and polished the outside of canoes and painted them red.

The Chinook canoes generally came from British Columbia through trade. They could carry large loads and were used for travel on open seas. These canoes were about 35 feet long, five feet wide at the center, three feet high at the stern, and about four and one-half feet high at the bow. In the middle and near the bow were places for masts. A steersman sat near the stern.

The Twana Fishing canoes plied all the rivers in the Sound area. They too had an added rim that could be replaced when worn. They ranged from 12 to 30 feet in length, 20 to 48 inches in width, and were from 9 to 20 inches deep in the center. The shovel canoe, also very common on the Skagit, was the same as the Twana except that its ends were blunt (1 to 1-1/2 feet wide) instead of coming to a point.

Canoe equipment included locally made paddles of maple wood, a man's paddle being about 4-1/2 feet long, with a 2-1/2-foot blade that was five inches wide at its widest point. The woman's paddle was both broader and shorter. The Sound Indians also imported the Makah paddles, 5 feet long, 3-foot blade, and 7 inches wide, made of yew. A variation on paddles was called the Chelalis or river paddle. Its blade ended in an inverted U, which was used to push against logs. To travel upriver, the Indians used simple poles about 12 to 15 feet in length. They bailed by means of a wooden dipper, alder being the preferred wood. They made anchors by simply grooving a rock or drilling a hole through it. [11]


The sea provided the Skagits with abundant food, especially salmon and shellfish. The men also hunted deer and other animals. Women picked berries and dug edible roots. They boiled fish and game in baskets or wooden troughs heated by hot rocks, roasted the same on open fires, baked roots and acorns in pits, and dried both fish and berries. So abundant was food, particularly salmon, that a family could obtain several months' supply in just a few days' work. As a result, the Skagits had considerably more time for leisure than the interior tribes. [12]

Fish Weirs

A description of one of the more common types of fish weirs employed records that these were built across a stream where it was shallow, narrow, and not too rapid. The Indians drove a series of stakes into the stream bed in sets of three, each set forming a tripod. Two of them slanted upstream, the third (slightly longer) leaned downstream and was braced against the other two, the set being lashed together at the tops. They then lashed three horizontal poles (one on the stream bed, one at the surface, and the third halfway between) to the upstream side. They laid latticework against this frame, the lattice work being cedar laths bound together. The current held this in place. Salmon congregated against the lattice and the Indians caught them with dip net, harpoon (spear), or gaff. [13]


Besides houses, canoes, and fish weirs, the early whites were impressed too with the "dead places" or burial sites they saw along Puget Sound. The Skagits and their neighbors placed their dead in canoes or elaborate boxes which in turn rested some three feet off the ground on stake frames. The deceased's relatives wrapped the body in reed mats and placed wood and bone utensils, dishes, cloth, and other objects in the canoe to accompany the spirit of the dead one. All these objects were broken or mutilated in some manner. It apparently was not unusual for slaves to be sacrificed at the death of a wealthy person. Wary of the ghosts of the departed, the Skagits took good care of the burial sites. [14]


The Skagits shared with other groups a belief in supernatural beings who lived in the physical world around them: the mountains, the sky, and the forests. These spirits included both guardians and monsters. Those who lived in physical objects could assume the form of animals; those who dwelt in animals, such as in the salmon, could just as readily take the form of man. One of the best collections of the folk tales of the coastal Salish is Thelma Adamson, Folk-Tales of the Coast Salish. A less scientific but interesting gathering was done by Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest. One of the Clark legends came from a Skagit named Andrew Joe. In the tale Joe told of Doquebuth, the Creator and the Transformer of the land of the Skagits. His story imparts the concepts that the Skagits had of the world about them. It also illustrates that the Skagits were not insulated from other tribes, both coastal and interior; there is great similarity between it and the stories of creation told by other groups:

In the beginning, Raven and Mink and Coyote helped the Creator plan the world. They were in on all the arguments. They helped the Creator decide to have all the rivers flow only one way; they first thought that the water should flow up one side of the river and down on the other. They decided that there should be bends in the rivers, so that there would be eddies where the fish could stop and rest. They decided that beasts should be placed in the forests. Human beings would have to keep out of their way.

Human beings will not live on this earth forever, agreed Raven and Mink, Coyote, and Old Creator. They will stay only for a short time. Then the body will go back to the earth and the spirit to the spirit world. All living things, they said, will be male and female--animals and plants, fish and birds. And everything will get its food from the earth, the soil.

The Creator gave four names for the earth. He said that only a few people should know the names; those few should have special preparation for that knowledge, to receive that special spirit power. If many people should know the names the world would change too soon and too suddenly. One of the names is for the sun, which rises in the east and brings warmth and light. Another is for the rivers, streams, and salt water. The third is for the soil; our bodies go back to it. The fourth is for the forest; the forest is older than human beings, and is for everyone on the earth.

After the world had been created for a while, everyone learned the four names for the earth. Everyone and everything spoke the Skagit language. When the people began to talk to the trees, then the change came. The change was a flood. Water covered everything but two high mountains--Kobah and Takobah. Those two mountains--Mount Baker and Mount Rainier--did not go under.

When the people saw the flood coming, they made a great big canoe. They loaded it with two of everything living on earth, with the male and female of every animal and plant. When the flood was over, the canoe landed on the prairie in the Skagit country. Five people were in the canoe. After the flood, when the land was dry again, they made their way back here.

A child was born to the man and his wife who had been in the canoe. He became Doquebuth. the new Creator. He created after the flood, after the world changed.

When he was old enough, Doquebuth was told to go to the lake--Lake Campbell it is called now--to swim and fast and get his spirit power. But the boy played around and did not obey orders. Coyote fed him, and the boy did not try to get his spirit power. So his family deserted him. When he came home, no one was there. His family had gone and had taken everything with them except what belonged to the boy. They left his dog behind and the hides of the chipmunks and squirrels the boy had shot when hunting. His grandmother left fire for him in a clamshell. From the skin which he had dried, the boy made a blanket.

When he found that his family had deserted him, he realized that he had done wrong. So he began to swim and to fast. For many, many days he swam and fasted. No one can get spirit power unless he is clean and his stomach is empty.

One day the boy dreamed that Old Creator came.

"Take my blanket," said Old Creator. "It is the blanket of the whole earth. Wave it over the waters, and name the four names of the earth. Then there will be food for everyone."

That is how the boy got his spirit power from Old Creator. He waved the blanket over the water and over the forest. Then there was food for everyone. But there were no people yet. The boy swam some more and kept on fasting.

Old Creator came to him again in a dream.

"Gather together all the bones of the people who lived here before the flood. Gather all the bones and pile them into a big pile. Then wave my blanket over them, and name the four names of the earth."

The young man did as he was told in his dream, and people were created from the bones. But they could not talk. They moved about but were not quite completed.

The young Creator swam some more. A third time Old Creator came to him in a dream. This time he told the young man that he should make brains for the new people. So he waved the blanket over the earth and named the four names of the earth. That is how brains were made, from the soil of the earth.

Then the people could talk. They spoke many different languages. But where they should live the young Creator did not know. So he swam some more. In his dream, Old Creator told him to step over the big island, from ocean to ocean, and blow the people back where they belonged. So Doquebuth blew the people back to the place where they had lived before the flood. Some he placed in the buffalo country, some by the salt water, some by fresh water, some in the forests. That is why the people in the different places speak different languages.

The people created after the flood prophesied that a new language would be introduced into our country. It will be the only language spoken, when the next change comes. When we can understand animals we will know that the change is halfway. When we can talk to the forest we will know that the change has come.

The flood was one change. Another is yet to come. The world will change again. When it will change, we do not know. [15]

Historical Period

As a result of Gov. I. I. Stevens' efforts to place all of Washington Territory's Indians on reservations in 1855, most of the Skagits eventually ended up in one or the other of two small reserves. These were the Swinomish Reservation near La Conner, Skagit County (Suiattle, Kikiallus, Swinomish, and Skagit Indians), and the Tulalip Reservation near Everett, Snohomish County (Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Suiattle, Samish, Skagit, and others). [16]

Despite this attempt to concentrate the Indians within specific areas, a number of Skagits continued to visit the mountains of the upper Skagit each summer and even to maintain homes along the lower reaches of the river. This was particularly true to those who had not signed the treaty and who did not believe themselves obligated by their fellow-tribesmen's marks. Not until whites began settling on clearings at the mouth of the Skagit and making tentative reaches up the river did the two cultures come into contact. As American settlement expanded, an increasing number of Indians married into and were absorbed by the white community. Others moved reluctantly to the reservations. A few continued to take advantage of the rugged upper country in order to hold on to their freedoms.

As the logging industry expanded and even after the first gold "rush" of the late 1870s, a few Skagits were still to be found along the river. As in other places throughout the west, incidents occurred. But the decimated Skagits were never a real threat to the invading whites--they were simply too few in number.

The most important contribution the Skagits, and the interior tribes, made to the exploration and opening of the North Cascades was the trails they developed over the centuries. Relatively few passes and canyons lend themselves to tramontane communication within the limits of today's park. Those that do exist had long been known and used by the Indians. When Alexander Ross, North West Company, attempted to cross the North Cascades from east to west in 1814 (see Fur Trade, below), he took with him an Indian guide who knew the country. Unfortunately the guide became ill before completing the journey; yet it is significant that Ross was able to find a person, in this case an interior Indian, acquainted with the mountains. [17]

In 1853, Capt. George McClellan, USA, looking for potential routes through the North Cascades, learned at Fort Okanogan that a trail led across the mountains from the Methow River on the east side to Puget Sound. With his characteristic hesitancy, McClellan did not investigate the trail; he assumed it would be unsatisfactory for a railway. [18] Possibly, but beyond proof, this trail lay through the Stehekin Valley, Cascade Pass, and along the Cascade River, the same route that most students believe Ross traveled.

In 1877, a group of would-be prospectors traveled this same route from west to east. Both when traveling up the Cascade Valley and when going down the Stehekin these men said that they followed Indian trails. When they reached the head of Lake Chelan they found two canoes that the Skagit Indians kept there for travel down the lake when trading with the interior Indians. Otto Klement, one of these travelers, noted that the Indians tended to keep their trails to the high country where possible, rather than through the thick growth of the valley bottoms. Klement also noted seeing a band of 30 Indian horses in the Cascade valley. This was a rare occurrence, for the coastal Indians, unlike those on the plateau, had very little need for horses in their forest environment. [19]

The American and British International Boundary Commissioners, 1858-59, made extensive use of Indian guides (both coastal and interior) for that section of the 49° north latitude that now marks the northern boundary of the park. One of these guides, Thiusoloc, a chief of "Samonas" (not listed by Swanton), drew an accurate map for the American commission showing the main rivers and routes of travel for the wilderness between the Fraser and Skagit rivers. One of the American surveyors, Henry Custer, wrote:

Part of these reconaissances, in fact all those on the western slope of the Cascade Mts and in the Cascade Mts itself were made on Foot, with the help of Indians belonging to the various tribes of the vicinity, as the Semiamoos, the Loomis, the Sumas, the Chiloweyuks, the Somanos, ect. ect. [sic], the services of these Indians were very valuable. . . . By employing them, we secured the good will of these tribes, so necessary to our success. Most all the First information of the topographical features (of the country), was also obtained by & from Indians, who all may be said to have a geographical Range, some small, some larger . . . & the most minute topographical knowledge, of a certain portion of the country generally well defined. Outside of these limits, the country is perfect terra incognita to them, which they neither need nor care, or have the curiosity to explore. [20]

White invasions caused a brief flurry of excitement about 1876 at the junction of the Skagit and Baker (Nahcullum) rivers. Five whites took out claims at that site. The Skagit Indians still living there objected. Both sides remained calm, but the whites sent to the Tulalip Indian Agency for assistance. An employee, John P. McGlinn, arrived, transported in a shovel-nosed canoe manned by two Skagits. When McGlinn requested that the Indians gather for a council, they arrived under their local chief, John Wha-wit-can. McGlinn informed the Skagits that they had ceded these lands by the Treaty of 1855 and should move to the reservations. The Indians demurred, saying that none of them had personally signed the treaty. They repeated their demands that whites remain below this point on the river. The council settled nothing. [21]

Four years later, 1880, near the same location, a settler named Amasa Everett got into an argument with an Indian. Everett shot the Indian in the mouth, but not fatally. The Skagit's friends became aroused and Everett fled down the river. A party of troops arrived; their brief visit quieted the turmoil peacefully. The next summer, some Skagits interfered with the work of government surveyors on the upper river. Again troops arrived, from Fort Townsend. Some firing occurred but no casualties resulted. In 1882, troops visited the Sauk river to impress the Indians of that area. These incidents seem to have caused the Skagits to realize that their way of life was forever doomed. No more trouble occurred. Down through the present century a few Skagits have continued to live on public domain lands in the vicinity of the river that bears their name. [22]

Within the park today little trace of the Skagit's wanderings exists. Hikers still cross Cascade Pass, but now on a trail that has been rerouted in large part. Reflector Bar, on Stetattle Creek, just above its junction with the Skagit and immediately below the town of Diablo, was, according to the Skagits, the Spirit Boundary. The Indians, at the time they were concerned about whites entering the upper country, explained that the "country ghosts" would inflict harm on any hunters or miners who entered the high country. According to the story, a huge forest fire swept down upon the miners' cabins about 1880, as if the country ghosts were inflicting their vengeance. The story is probably apocryphal, yet it symbolizes the last effort of the small Skagit tribe to preserve itself against the waves of change. [23]

A final Skagit story, beyond challenge by modern historiography, also occurred within the park boundaries. A Skagit family was camped on the river above present Newhalem. A daughter, who had married a Thompson Indian of British Columbia, came there to visit. With her was her husband and two of his brothers. An argument occurred and a Skagit killed one of the brothers. The Thompsons left for their northern home by way of Stetattle Creek. The next summer the Skagit family returned to the same camp. A daughter-in law, who was a prophet, warned the group that the Thompsons would return seeking revenge. She and her husband fled downstream to Bacon Creek (today's boundary). The Thompsons returned, attacked the cedar-plank shelter and destroyed all the family but one son. This young man fled to tell his brother at Bacon Creek of the disaster.

The next summer these two brothers and several of their friends again went up the river where they found the Thompsons camped at the mouth of Goodell Creek. The Skagits attacked, destroying most of the enemy.

According to Skagit memory, this type of behavior was typical of the Thompsons whom they regarded as thieves and worse. A common saying in the tribe, when something was missing, was "The Stetattles [Thompsons] must have been around." [24]

Other Coastal Indians

Between the Skagit River and the Canadian boundary at least four other groups of the Salishan linguistic family lived down into the historic period: Samish, Lummi, Nooksack, and Semiahmoo tribes. Of the four, the Nooksacks probably had the most intimate knowledge of the mountains. This group lived along the Nooksack River which rises at the base of Mt. Shuksan. Their name means "mountain men." Today the Lummis live in a reservation (population 827) named after themselves in northwestern Washington; the Samish and Semiahmoo Indians have almost disappeared as identifiable groups; while the Nooksacks (population 300) live on public domain allotments along the Nooksack River in Whatcom County. The culture of these groups was similar to the Skagits', thus the various subjects discussed in the preceding pages are equally applicable to them. [25]

The Inland Indians

The tribes living along the eastern base of the North Cascades were also members of the Salishan linguistic family, sometimes being referred to as the "interior division." From north to south, those groups who felt the mountains' influence were the Thompsons, Okanogans, Methows, Chelans, and Wenatchees.

Thompson Indians

To the north of the North Cascades, along the Thompson and Fraser rivers in British Columbia, lived the (Ntlakyapamuks), popularly called the Thompsons. First visited by Simon Fraser, North West Company, in 1799, the Thompsons experienced the effects of a great influx of miners in their homelands during the gold rush of 1858. They hunted in the North Cascades during the summers, especially along the upper Nooksack and Skagit rivers. As noted above, they traded and sometimes fought with their coastal cousins. Although influenced by the coastal culture, the Thompsons' way of life more closely resembled that of the numerous tribes living in the great Columbia Basin.

Before coming into contact with whites, the Thompsons were a considerable tribe, their population around 1780 being estimated at 5,000. Like so many tribes they suffered from smallpox and other diseases introduced by fur traders and gold miners until, by 1900, they numbered less than 2,000. [26]


To the south of the Thompsons, the next large group was the Okanogan tribe, located principally on the Similkameen, Okanogan and Columbia rivers, and around Okanogan Lake, and on both sides of the international boundary. Those living south of the 49th parallel also went by the name of Sinkaieth ("people of the water that does not freeze"). They numbered approximately 2,200 in 1780, but by 1906 had dwindled to little more than 500 in the American band. The remnants of the tribe live today on the Colville Reservation in northeastern Washington as part of the Confederated Tribes. [27]

Methows & Chelans

The Methows were a small group that lived on the Methow and Okanogan rivers, and on the Columbia between the two. Hardly large enough to be recognized as a separate tribe, these Indians were closely related to the Okanogans. Farther south, around the outlet of Lake Chelan, was another very small group, the Chelan Indians. Citizens of that area often refer to them today as the Wapatoes. The Chelans spoke the Wenatchee dialect and were closely related to that tribe as well as with the Methows. [28]


The Wenatchees (also spelled Wenatchi) lived along the lower Methow and Wenatchee rivers and at the confluences of these streams with the Columbia. Their descendants today live on both the Yakima and Colville Reservations. Numbering at least 1,400 in 1780, they had almost disappeared by 1906, there being only 52 accounted for by that time. [29]

All these groups shared the characteristics of the Columbia basin culture, along with such Shahaptian tribes as the Yakimas, Walla Wallas, and Nez Perces. In contrast to the wet forests of the coast, miles of grasses covered the great rolling plain, which was slashed by gaunt coulees. Basaltic rock outcroppings, semi-desert vegetation in the rain shadows, and exceedingly hot summers created a harsh environment in which the plateau tribes lived a more Spartan life than their coastal relatives. Living along the eastern base of the Cascades, they had the most contact of the plateau people with the coast. They acted as middlemen in trading goods and ideas between the two areas.

The interior Salish lived in semi-permanent villages located along the Columbia and its tributaries. In contrast to the coast, houses, or lodges, in the interior were easily transported. The entire village could pack up and move according to the season. However, each band usually reestablished itself at the same sites year after year, such as at its favorite fishing area along a river in early summer.


The lodges, like those along the Sound, sometimes reached great lengths, well beyond 200 feet. A number of families, sometimes an entire village, each with its own fire, would occupy a lodge. They did not partition the interior, however. Lacking cedar, they built the lodge of finely-woven reed mats hung on a log frame. The sides sloped, almost reaching at the top, but leaving an opening along the ridge so that smoke might escape. In the winter they often sunk their shelters into the ground by excavating a few feet, then cover in the exterior with grass and earth. About the beginning of the 19th century, after acquiring the horse, these tribes borrowed the concept of the skin lodge, popularly called the tipi, from the Great Plains Indians who lived among the great buffalo herds.


The introduction of the horse from the Southwest in the 18th century revolutionized the life of the plateau tribes. Greatly increasing their mobility, they traveled far and wide, picking up particularly the ideas of the Great Plains and its buffalo-centered life. The horse represented wealth, and the leaders of these eastern Cascades groups strove to acquire large herds. The grasslands of the Columbia proved to be nutritious and they were easily traveled, in contrast to the dense forests along the coast. However, as important as the horse became, the groups along the foothills of the North Cascades did not acquire horse herds nearly as large as did the Indians farther east, such as the Cayuses and Nez Perces.

Political Organization

Again, the band or village was the important element in the political organization of the tribes. Larger groups might come together at the fishing places, but no central governmental organization would emerge. In warfare, a number of bands might unite, but each remained independent with regard to tactics and leadership. Leaders might inherit their positions, but they would have to prove themselves in order to retain it. It was common to center around a proven warrior in time of war, then to look to different leaders for the hunt or at fishing time. Extremely independent, each man was a law unto himself and to his family. They did not observe the potlatch to any important degree, although gatherings for great feasts occurred in times of plenty. They rarely practiced slavery, although they retained women and children captured in battle.


The plateau people were more modest than those on the coast. During the hot summers, the men wore little more than breechclouts and moccasins. The women usually covered themselves with a skin dress. In colder weather, both sexes wore the elaborately tailored, soft, skin clothing, so popularly associated with Indians by today's public. Shirts, leggings, and moccasins were decorated with porcupine quills, shells, and dyes (later, with beads). They illustrated a degree of sophistication about clothing lacking in the more casual coastal tribes. After whites began trading in the country, no Indian would be seen without a wool blanket during the cooler seasons.


Canoes of course were much less important a means of transportation in the interior, especially after the introduction of the horse. Nonetheless, these Indians were skilled at hollowing out logs; and small dugouts plied Lake Chelan, the Columbia, and the other rivers.


Their diet differed little from the groups along the Sound. They did not have access to much shellfish but, in June each year, salmon began running the rivers. Then a great flurry of fishing activity took place. They caught and prepared fish in the same manner as those on the coast. A difference in emphasis, perhaps, was that these people along the Columbia were extremely skilled at spearing salmon from wooden platforms at such great fishing centers as The Dalles and Kettle Falls, both on the Columbia. They too climbed into the higher country at the appropriate seasons to collect berries and dig roots, especially camas, a root food that has a strikingly handsome flower in early summer. Skilled in the use of bow and arrow, the plateau Indians were great hunters. Deer, antelope, and smaller animals provided both food and clothing.

Historical Period

The first white to visit the Okanogans, etc., was the North West Company's great explorer, David Thompson. He crossed the Canadian Rockies and, in 1811, traveled down the Columbia, visiting each tribe enroute to the mouth of the "River of the West." He traded for food with the Okanogans. He described a Wenatchee lodge that was 240 feet long. He said that the Wenatchees were well dressed, wearing skins of antelope, mountain sheep, and mountain goat.

Later that same year, David Stuart and Alexander Ross, members of John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company, came up the Columbia and established Fort Okanogan, a mere thirty miles by the river from present Chelan. During the War of 1812, the North West Company acquired the post. It was from Fort Okanogan that Alexander Ross, who had transferred to the North West Company, set out in 1814 to become the first white to cross the North Cascades. The post introduced many new ideas and products to the tribes along this portion of the Columbia. Such items as guns, blankets, and steel traps quickly became necessities. Just as quickly, liquor and diseases became the scourges of the tribes.

In the early 1850s, the railroad surveyors passed by. Later in the same decade, a stream of miners moved up the Columbia toward the supposed riches of gold in northeastern Washington. Territorial then state governments came into being. Steamboats plied the Columbia. White settlements sprang up, especially after whites discovered in the 1870s that this semi-arid land would grow wheat, cattle, and apples. Chinese miners panned the gravel bars--and occasionally the Chelans and others attacked them. For a brief time in 1880, the Army occupied Camp Chelan at the outlet of the great lake that flows from the heart of the North Cascades.

All this time the Chelans, Wenatchees, Methows, and Okanogans constantly decreased in numbers. They did not offer resistance to white encroachments as did the Yakimas, Cayuses, and Nez Perces. Today, the Thompsons still live on their homelands. The others have left their river valleys and mountains. In 1879 and 1880, reservations were created west of the Okanogan and Columbia rivers as far as Lake Chelan and the eastern slope of the Cascades. In succeeding years, these reserves were reduced in size as white settlement increased. Today nearly all the American Okanogans, Methows, Chelans, and Wenatchees are parts of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in northeastern Washington. (Some of the Wenatchees have gone their separate way and live on the Yakima Reservation.) Of the total population of 3,000 on the Colville Reserve, less than 400 are Okanogans; about 140 call themselves Methow; and a little over 150 are from the Wenatchee tribe. The Chelans are small enough and integrated enough to escape most censuses. [30]

As on the western side, few traces of the eastern Indians are to be found in the park today. The Thompsons' trail down the Skagit is now under water. Other trails that originated with the Indians are still to be found, although often greatly changed. An example of this latter may be illustrated by the Stehekin valley where the lower part of the trail was converted into a road in the early mining days. Their names are still on the land: Chelan, (deep water), and Stehekin (the way through the mountains). At the head of Lake Chelan, across the lake from Stehekin Landing. pictographs still stick to the sheer granite walls. Although damaged beyond recall by vandals, this record of occupation, possibly predating the Chelan Indians, testifies that the Indians have been acquainted with this land since long before the historic period. [31]

Evaluation and Recommendations, Both Coastal and Inland Indians

Relatively little trace of the Indians' travels and occupation of the present park complex is to be found. Yet a knowledge of the Indians' familiarity with and ability to penetrate this mighty range is essential to an understanding of man in this magnificent environment. Also important is a knowledge of how the mountains influenced the two different ways of life: the coastal, damp, and forested world of the Indians along Puget Sound; and the grass-covered, dry land of the Interior Indians.

The stories of these two differing ways of life may best be told in visitor centers, through museum exhibits, audio-visual programs, and perhaps demonstrations where feasible.

The few specific sites known, such as the pictographs at the head of Lake Chelan, already badly damaged, should be preserved. Until protection can be guaranteed, this particular site should be interpreted with care, if at all.

Residents of the Stehekin Valley, and undoubtedly elsewhere, have recovered several excellent examples of Indian stonework. One expects that equally valuable finds will be made. These artifacts should be collected where possible, catalogued, studied, and exhibited.

In connection with the above, an archeological survey should be made of the park with particular attention being given to the river valleys that have not been flooded, such as the Stehekin, the middle Skagit, Big and Little Beaver Creeks, Chilliwack River, the North Fork of Cascade River, Bridge Creek, and elsewhere. Plans exist for flooding the lower portions of Big Beaver and Thunder Creeks. These two should be surveyed well in advance of any dam construction.

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Last Updated: 11-Jun-2008