Thursday, February 21, 2013

Early Settlers on the Gig Harbor Peninsula

I would like to apologize for the missing recent blogs; my computer crashed due to failure in the security system and the sudden infection of viruses.  However with the investment in a new system I'm hoping we can continue as we were.  And now to the early settlers….

When Midshipman Joseph Sanford discovered Gig Harbor bay on May 15, 1841 he noted in his records "a pretty little bay that is concealed from the Sound"  and when on to say "the passage is about 10 or 15 yards wide and it gradually widenings (sic) until it forms a circular basin"  and continued "saw no natives today."

Lieutenant George Sinclair heard about Sanford's discovery and he set out in the captain's gig [ed.: a light rowboat often used as a fast launch for the captain; the gig was designed for speed, and not used as a working boat.] to see for himself if the bay was as pretty as Sanford had describe it.  His description upon seeing it was "an excellent little bay" adding however that "a number of canoes came off from which we procured an abundance of salmon."    

As you walk down the corridor of the museum's Native American exhibit towards the main gallery you have the opportunity to see and learn  for yourself about the people who owned those canoes.
Native American canoes loaded for travel around Puget Sound
The little harbor was known by several different names, including Twa-wal-kut, used by the native peoples living here in 1841 when Lt. Charles Wilkes came through with the U.S. Exploring Expedition. As hunter-gatherers, these people most likely paid little attention to the white men's government.  The individuals knew little about the treaties, such as the treaty signed in 1846 making this part of the Pacific Northwest American territory rather than British territory like Canada, despite the Hudson Bay Company operating in this part of the country. (The Hudson Bay Company had been incorporated by England in 1670 and functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America before European states, and later the United States, laid claim to those territories.)  In 1853 the little harbor area which Wilkes named Gig Harbor became part of Pierce County, Washington Territory.

The majority of the population around Gig Harbor and Wollochet Bay were Native Americans and most identified themselves as members of the Puyallup, Nisqually, or Squaxin Island Tribes.

The site where Donkey Creek empties into the harbor was a spawning ground of salmon (reseeded in the 1970s by the Gig Harbor Fishermen's Club as a hatchery) and was the main Twa-wal-kut village. This village was founded many generations before the 1800s by a band from the Puyallup Tribe based in the area of Commencement Bay, The tribal members returned regularly to Gig Harbor during the year for salmon fishing, hunting, and gathering. Cedar structures were built near Donkey Creek that remained long into the communities pioneer years.
View of Native Ameircan cabins at Donkey Creek, looking from east side of harbor
(cabins are visible above the steamboat bow).
Other villages, as mentioned in Marian Smith's 1940 book The Puyallup-Nisqually, were located at the head of Wollochet Bay, and were described as overflow from Gig Harbor with the closest contact between the two groups being maintained:
  • Carr Inlet: above Minter; Glencove, originally populated by people from Minter and maintained close alliance with Minter; head of Burley Lagoon, eventually uniting with the Minter group,
  • Allyn: at the mouth of Mason Creek,
  • Fox Island villages: which joined the villages at Carr Inlet and Steilacoom,
  • Anderson Island villages:  two Nisqually or Squallismish; Dupont Creek or Sequalitcu; and Budd's Inlet and South Bay,
  • Gig Harbor and Wollochet villages: had close contact with the village at Quartermaster Harbor which eventually joined Gig Harbor.
In addition to what seemed as permanent village sites, there were numerous temporary camps in which Native Americans lived during their travels around the Sound. Some camps were used regularly and frequently; there is little indication that the various bands were anything but friendly with each other.

A young Annie Squally, who resided in the Wollochet area of the Gig Harbor Peninsula.
Annie was well known for her talents as a basket weaver.

Note: Marian W. Smith was an anthropologist and graduate of Columbia University. She credited the work of Gibbs: S'Homamish; Eells: S'ho-ma-mish; and Curtis: Sqababsh in her book The Puyallup-Nisqually, published in 1940.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment