Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wes Ulsh’s Totem

Anyone entering or leaving Gig Harbor, Washington, will notice the totem across from the Gig Harbor United Methodist Church.  The colors have faded but the totem still stands at 182 feet tall as a silent sentry.  It was dedicated on July 28, 1979 as A Memorial totem dedicated to those who walked before and those who will walk and shared by us today.
Photo via iPad
The information in this blog is being reproduced from the pamphlet provided for the dedication.  Hopefully it will help us all to remember the meaning behind this specific totem.

Totems are never worshipped as idols, and have no deligious significance, though they are held in reverence, as it is believed the Totem Spirit enters the carved symbols, stately masterpieces of Love and Patience.

A Tribute To Those hose Special Skills And Assistance Made It All Possible

This totem pole was carved from a Western red cedar (hula plicate) snag, the remains of a tree that grew in an area just south of the present town boundary of Gig Harbor which was also the site of the old army Ft. Spire.  The tree was 182 feet tall and 38 inches in diameter at the base.  By counting the rings in the wood it was determined it had stood as a growing tree for 257 years and then fell victim to lightning or a forest fire.  In either event the result was the same in that the heat had the effect of case hardening the outer surface of the tree, protecting it from the assault of weather and insects for at least 50 additional years.

Colors - Matoe Wanbli
Removed pole from forest - Paul Fatland
Transporting pole - Earl Benson, Don Shaw
Erecting Pole - “Duke” Thrailkill,  Gery Walsh, Jack Dawson, Paul Dawson, Carl Veitenhans, Clarence Thrall
Research - Cecelia Carpenter, To Oluse, Gig Harbor Historical Society
Editing - Pam Wise, Steve Dable
Tech. Assistance - Stan Wheeler, Victor Ulsh, Al Tomlin, Donna SHort, Tim Macy
Totem Pole Princess - Lisa
Dedication - Harold S. George & Family, Hinauri Tribole
Oil Painting - Margret Dole

Some of the early known Indians of Gig Harbor were Dave Squally (a wonderful drag net fisherman), Annie Squally (Lopeton) (a very good basket maker), Burnt Charlie, Joe “Gig Harbor” Young, Emma Squally Simmons, and Sally Jackson.  A beautiful philosophy expressed by Joe was “When the fish don’t run you simply sit down and wait.”

The Totem Pole

Gig, the seagull, (Kwal’ax or Tasmo’tl) was capable of changing form at will to conceal his supernatural identity.  He was capable of the marvelous feats transcending the powers of animals and men in the present-day world.  The seagull is known for his protective and creative ability.

(Sea) Wolf (Wasko) bestows his happy spirit to help people.  Women obtaining this spirit become skilled seamstresses and men become skilled in woodcraft.  Wolf and killer-whale are interchangeable so either form represents the other.  Wolf would run down from the hills and leap into the water, changing to a killer whale in mid leap.

Chief Rahari (New Zealand chief) represents the acceptance of people as they are without putting conditions on their friendship and trusting and believing in them until they prove unworthy, unfortunately, this is just the opposite from the way most people are today.  With Chief Rahari is lizard  (Makotapiri) who represents patience and the ability to complete a task regardless of the time required.

Bear (Chet-woot) stands for strength and leadership and is most eagerly desired because of his guardian spirit of protectiveness of the woman.  Women who gain this spirit become excellent housekeepers, fine cooks, and good mothers.  Men proteges become skilled providers possessing great endurance.

(Totem-Pole Princess -Lisa) 

Sea Lion (Matih) spirit gives swimming and fishing skill and those who had his blessing were destined to wealth.  With Sea Lion are two salmon (Walelee), the symbols of fertility, immortality, and wealth.  With his influence one can influence the weather, prevent or change excessive cold snaps, and change snow to rain.

Owl (Kwel-kwel) is the guardian spirit of medicine men and represents a direct tie with the spirit world.  He gives the ability to hunt on sea or land all game in foul and fair weather.  Owl and mink are also interchangeable.  With owl is Chief Squally (Shoma’Mish Chief) from the Gig Harbor Clan wearing his tadn skillik (Chief’s hat).

Frog (Shwah-kuh) is the guardian and warns of approaching enemies besides protecting the totem-pole itself from the spirit of decay.
Photo via iPad

The dedication pamphlet continues with the reciting of The Legend of Gig, The Seagull, A Note on The Religious Beliefs of the Early Indians of the Gig Harbor Area, Background and Influence of Totemism and a map showing you the location of the totem.

Should you wish to read those items, please visit the Gig Harbor Harbor History Museum,  Gig Harbor Washington on Thursday mornings when Research Room is open 10-12 AM.

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.


  1. Wesley C. Ulsh died December 31, 2014.

    1. He's in my top 5 people to have ever met/known.