Last week was Part 2 of the Waterlines class, featuring archaeologist Dennis Lewarch, Suquamish Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, with a concept of ‘Before the Cut’. This was an exploration “using archaeological, ethnographic and historical data [to discuss] the effects of shoreline transformations on indigenous populations.” Similar to the first class, the depth and breadth of the cultural history, and his more expansive title ‘Archaeology and Ethnographic Background of Seattle and Prior Massive Anthropogenic Modifications” hints at the depth of this topic.
Lots of details here, but the idea that in the past 14,000 years of occupation by native peoples, after migration from the north via the Bering Land Bridge and along the outside edge of the ice. There are various theories, but that the retreating glaciers opened up a path between that allowed access, and continuous occupation is found throughout the Northwest in archaeological sites 12-13000 years of age. Once here, the land has changed via sea level rise, mudflows, earthquakes, tsunamis, subsidence, alluvial processes, and more. The story is thus the land shaping people, and the people shaping land. The defining characteristics of the different tribal groups are called adaptions, and place origins of geography, such as the Saltwater adaptation, particularly the Suquamish who lived near the sea, versus the Riverine adaptation, the Duwamish people who lived near the river. Other adaptations are tied to lakes and inland/upland areas, all of which collectively shape the speech, family community, and cultures. For Lewarch’s presentation, the focus discussed a larger history of regional indigenous occupation of the Seattle area, with focus on some of the areas near Seattle that had significance.
Black River Origins
One of the main points of origin for Duwamish people, based on the above adaption, is the Black River, where four original villages were located. An excerpt from the 1909 USGS Topographic map of the area shows the former drainage, where the Cedar River flowed in from the east, and the Black River drained the south part of Lake Washington, near Renton. This confluence also was fed from the south by the former route of the White River, as all of it flowed into the Duwamish and out to the Sound. The names of the settlements of the ‘People of the Lake Fork’ and the inhabitants near the Little Cedar River, and their evolution in living off the land and the river ecosystems for many years.
The demise of this home place began with channelization of the Cedar River into Lake Washington, and ended he lowering of the lake when the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks were built in 1916. The elevation of Lake Washington was lowered nine feet, to the same as Lake Union, which severed its outflow to the Black River, captured in the photo below shows the river after the lowering of the lake, where it slowly died and has (mostly) been subsequently buried. For more on the Black River history, a short blurb on this from David Williams here.
The map from the Wikipedia page on the Black River also shows the before and after and the erasure of the original location of Duwamish settlements through reconfiguration of the hydrology of the region, another in a long line of massive manipulations in the region. The Duwamish People were living in the area, and continued to do so, even as the Black River was dying. They were relocated to reservations, and as Lewarch mentioned, they were sent to coastal areas near the ocean, and being a river tribe, kept returning to the river to fish for many years after, where they lived on a property owned by Erasmus Smithers, until it was burned in 1896. There’s inevitably a long history of settlement and resettlement and disenfranchisement throughout recent history I’m glossing over, but the idea of a river tribe not having a river seems par for the course of how tribes were treated. Secondary to this, the subtle differences between different tribes were not recognized, with many Suquamish or other tribes in the region being lumped into the Duwamish by colonists.
The Duwamish River obviously had a significant place in the history of this river tribe, and the estuary connected the river people with those of the sea and the density of place names in that zone . A number of archaeological sites amidst the oxbows of this area. The 1899 US Coast Survey shows the bay and larger estuary, with the area of downtown Seattle starting to build out, but prior to the majority of the land filling to come.
A map of these old configuration juxtaposed with the channel that exists today shows the level of land filling and manipulation done to this area to carve out industrial lands. From the fantastic Duwamish Revealed site: “About 100 years ago, the Duwamish was straightened and dredged, reducing 14 miles of winding river to 5 miles of industrial “waterway.” Nearly all of the native habitat – mudflats, marshes, and swamps surrounded by old growth Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Hemlock trees – was replaced by agriculture, then industry. The Duwamish is home to three Native tribes: The Duwamish, the Muckleshoot, and the Suquamish, and has immense cultural importance to them. The word “Duwamish” is an Anglicized version of Dkhw’Duw’Absh, meaning “people of the inside” in Lushootseed, the language of the Coast Salish people.”
While native peoples were instrumental in building the city and working in it’s saw mills, fisheries and other industry, rapidly changing Seattle began to try to eliminate the native residents of the city, passing laws in 1863 to make it illegal for Indians to live in Seattle unless they worked for whites, villages and settlements were burned. Native peoples moved north as development occurred, and tended to stay near the water, occupying places within the network of piers and wharves. One such place was Ballast Island, formed from ships dumping rocks after their voyages, which slowly accumulated into made land. A photo from the area shows the colonization of this space by Native peoples, who camped out around the wharfs fringes, being ogled by early Seattlites. In 1891 they were forcibly removed, one in a string of forced removals that shaped the early history of the area.
West Point & Shilshole
Moving away from downtown, the occupation and history of West Point, the point that was formerly military outpost and now Discovery Park, along with being the massive sewage-treatment plant. This area was a tidal marsh that was occupied and used, with the formation of sediment along with earthquakes shaping. When the treatment plant was being expanded, a significant archaeological effort was undertaken, beautifully documented in this online resource from the Burke Museum. Shilshole also has a significance to Native Seattle, with the native word meaning ‘threading the needle’ to get into the small mouth that led into Salmon Bay, which was littered with shell middens and other features showing occupation, similar to other areas on the coast. Prior to the creation of the locks, this area . One long-time resident was Salmon Bay Charlie. A great resource for this and other Seattle history is the blog by Paul Dorpat featuring ‘Seattle: Now & Then‘, where you can investigate the area in some more detail. From the post: “Salmon Bay Charlie and his wife lived in their cedar plank home on the south shore of Magnolia’s Salmon Bay. For half a century Charlie, also known as Siwash Charlie, sold salmon, clams and berries to the first settlers and later to the soldiers at Fort Lawton. Today’s historical view shows Charlie’s house at the turn of the century, taken by the photography firm, Webster and Stevens.”
A bit to the east, the connection between the eastern edge of Lake Union and Lake Washington is a good discussion of place names, including the connections between Lushootseed, or Coast Salish names and colonist names. This brought up a discussion of the area below,
I rotated the Waterlines map to match the same orientation, and the references to the area marked B, which was a village site named sɬuwiɬ, “Little Canoe Channel” that marked the mouth of Ravenna Creek, where Lewarch mentions there were stories of salmon runs up Ravenna. There’s also Lake Union, marked as #21, which is called x̌ax̌əču meaning, “Small Lake” and Foster Island, in an area named staɬaɬ or “Baby Fathom” showing that even with a translation there is still a story missing. Perhaps a shallow zones at the mouth of the creek. The cut, marked as #18 which is named sxʷac̓adwiɬ translated as “Carry a Canoe” meaning it probably wasn’t passable as a waterway until later when the Denny’s opened it up as a log-sluice to move timber between the two points.
The conversation of ethnography and language started with T.T. Waterman, who studied local tribal place names in the 1920s, seen in publications like “The Geographical Names Used by the Indians of the Pacific Coast” and the author of the book Puget Sound Geography, which was edited by Vi Hilbert, Jay Miller, and Zalmai Zahir.
According to Lewarch, the notes from Waterman were sort of a mess, so the editors compiled it into something readable, including an amazing figure in Seattle history, Vi Hilbert, a Puget Salish and “a conservationist of the Lushootseed language and Culture”. While Waterman interviewed a small group of around 25 native people for his work, it generated over one thousand place names. And as Lewarch mentioned, all of those interviewed said if they had talked to the Elders, they would have ended up with 1000s more, a sad testament to a cultural history lost forever. Another resource for this is Coll Thrush’s book ‘Native Seattle‘ offers a great section with maps of those place names developed along with Anthropologist Nile Thompson, a snapshot of one below with the accompanying Lushootseed language and origins. Many of these as I mentioned ended up on the Waterlines map, with more abbreviated descriptions. The one below shows the NW corner with Green Lake in the center, and West Point, Lake Union, and Salmon Bay, along with areas along the coast marked.
Lots of threads to follow and stories to connect. In general, the talk focused on the Indigenous cultures and their resilience, both pre-European settlement and after colonization, displacement, and more. He ended up with a quote from Chief Seattle, and discussion both of the potential misinterpretation of his words by the translator, and whether it was an environmental, or social statement, but the multiple meanings that resonated strongly in Seattle history. He quoted a passage:
“And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.”
It could be both a warning or a statement that shows that resilience of Native people wasn’t just in survival, but left a permanent mark on the landscape and people. The culture and place of what Seattle is and the way we should live is etched in history and resonates in the places dotting the map of Seattle, including waters visible and hidden.
A preliminary presentation featured Amir Sheikh, one of the primary collaborators on the Waterlines Project, and he discussed much of the history and process of the overall project and methodology along with framing the concept of place names using Lushootseed language, as featured on the Waterline maps (see my post on language here). One video he showed was “Djidjila’letch to Pioneer Square: From Native village to Seattle metropolis“, a video which takes the viewer “…from Native village to metropolis, the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle has undergone dramatic transformations. This animation provides a bird’s eye glimpse at some of the social, economic, and landscape histories of the neighborhood through time.”