Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Brief Puyallup-Nisqually Indian History

[Editor's note: Over the decades, the Gig Harbor Peninsula Historical Society has accumulated personal stories, narratives, publications, and newspapers relating to the Native American history of the Gig Harbor Peninsula. Some of the research in the museum's files is of a scholarly nature, most has been relayed through personal memoirs...which author Jerry Eckrom calls "hazy recollections." While we have these memories of the past, they are the memories of the European settlers and of their descendants. Our goal is to include information of the peninsula's Native American history by  Puyallup and Nisqually historians. Until then, here's a fragment of the story as in our research files...)

In 1792 it was documented that there were six permanent villages located on the Gig Harbor Peninsula. The Puyallup village was located at the mouth of today's Donkey Creek in Gig Harbor. The village was established centuries earlier by a band of Puyallup tribe members from Commencement Bay. Other Native American village locations established by the Puyallup and other south sound tribes included sites at the head of Wollochet Bay, at Quartermaster Harbor, on Carr Inlet above the town of Minter, on Glencove at Carr Inlet, and at the head of Burley Lagoon on Carr Inlet.

In addition to the permanent village sites, there were numerous temporary camps in and around the south sound. Some of the camps were used frequently and were significant as indications of which villages were friendly with one another. There were eight regions that were considered permanent camp sites. They were located at:  Redondo Beach; Vashon Island; Colvos Passage; Fox Island; Anderson Island; at the mouth of the Nisqually River; Squaxin Island, and the East side of Harstene Island. The camps and villages became centers of activity during the salmon runs, gathering clams, picking berries and natural fruits, hunting, and for gathering cedar bark and other natural fibers.  

Most of the members of the local bands of Nisqually and all of the Puyallup stayed on Fox Island during the hostilities of 1855-56. Governor Stevens held a Council at Fox Island in June, 1856, and asked the tribal elders what land they wanted for a reservation. Shackelford (1) noted that:

“the Indians asked for the northern part of the Nisqually Plain, a large part of the Puyallup Valley extending almost to Alderton, then northward to the Sound and westward by such lines that the dominion would cover all the Point Defiance Peninsula. This land represented the land over which the Indians were accustomed to roam, and in fact, the Puyallups had asked for their 'old homes.'”

[Visit Washington history online for more about the Indian wars:]

By 1900, the scattered villages were gone. The peninsula natives who remained lived on a government reservation wedged between Point Fosdick and Berg’s Landing, off 10th Street NW on Wollochet Bay. After the discontinuation of the reservation in 1913, the Native American population decreased until only a few families remained. Those that did stay mingled freely with the area residents and left lasting impressions on their memories.

Dawn Dressler on the Gateway staff wrote an article in August 15, 1984 on the memories of Gene Forsythe, Sr., whose parents owned Forsythe’s Trading Post, and of Ruth Denny, a school teacher at Wollochet School, as she recalled the Uhlmans and their store:  

Richard “Dick” Uhlman built his store near Berg’s Landing around 1910, although he originally started his business selling fresh meat to the residents from a boat called, appropriately, Butcher.  Dick learned the local Indian language. He helped those who were living on the reservation receive their government allotments. Later, when the Indians left the area, Dick purchased much of their property.

In the early days of the 20th century fishing was the way the majority of the Native Americans made their living. It was recalled in one of the memoirs that...Chief Dave Squally [English name] was seen fishing from a flat-bottom skiff powered by four Indian women rowing. Chief Squally would watch the movement of the water and direct the women to row to that particular spot. Once in position the women would scream loudly, and when the net was full, Chief Squally would raise the net where there would be a sizeable amount of large salmon.

There was also another local Indian, English name of Ted Simmons, who fished from a dugout canoe. Ted was able to dip his canoe to the side and slide his catch right into the boat.

Once a sawmill was built opposite Uhlman’s store and Berg’s Freight Landing, several of the Indians changed from fishing to working at the mill. A man named MacIntire built the sawmill and it was manned entirely by Swedes and natives. While showing some visitors around one day, the Swedish boss joked “We’re all Swedes. Some are just smoked more than others.”

The sawmill is gone, the Uhlman store is a private residence, the freight landing is a boat launch, but the history remains.

This is just another example of our rich heritage through the diversity of all the people who left their mark one way or another...from the first Native American villagers, to the European settlers, to the people who continue to arrive today.  

Note (1):  Elizabeth Shackelford, "The History of the Puyallup Indian Reservation," (Bachelor's Thesis, College og Puget Sound, June 1918, p. 26.  There are two versions of this thesis, both contain the same words, but the pages are numbered differently.  Both versions are on the shelves of the Tacoma Public Library Northwest Room.  Shackelford indicates she received much information from discussions with Henry Sicade.  

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