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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
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Swinomish Indian loom piece discovered in 1985

      One of our readers shared a newspaper article with us about an archeological discovery back in the mid-1980s that uncovered trade of dog-fur blankets long ago by Indians of the Swinomish area.

(The loom piece discovered in 1985)
      Dale VanderPol and Mike Cuperus hold the loom piece that they discovered.

      Daryl VanderPol and Mike Cuperus were walking along the Skagit river delta one day looking for sticks to throw, and found one that was four feet long and ornately carved with an animal head on one end. They would eventually discover that it was once part of a vertical support on a prehistoric Indian loom.
    VanderPol explained that it took almost four years for him to learn what they had found. His history teacher eventually phoned Astrida Onat of Seattle Community College [hereafter SCC]. Onat eventually determined that the tool the boys found dates from a prehistoric time when Pacific Northwest Indians were the only people in North America who wove blankets from wool. Tribes along Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca maintained a special breed of wool dogs, often confined on island to keep them apart from other camp dogs. Indians used razor-sharp mussel-shell knives to shear the dogs several times a year. The skill died out when European traders brought machine-made blankets by ship. The culture in general collapsed after arrival of the white traders.
(Pit excavation for VanderPol loom piece)
Pit excavation by teams from the three colleges

      Robert Joe Sr., who was then tribal chairman, and tribal elders told Onat that their oral history recalled that the Swinomish channel 2-3,000 years ago was shallow enough to walk across at low tide, one of wandering mouths of Skagit. Dredging in the 1950s deepened it to make a permanent route for boat traffic that was avoiding the turbulent Deception Pass. Onat speculated that the loom support was from an Indian fishing village along the lower Skagit that was abandoned in the nineteenth century after upstream logging made the site uninhabitable. Logging methods back then did not call for buffers along the river and streams and the repeated floods changed the nature of the delta where the Indians camped.
      Little did they know that their discovery would become part of a continuing archeology program at the Swinomish reservation, a joint project between the tribe, Seattle Community College (hereafter SCC), Washington State University and Evergreen State College.
      According to the Aug. 27, 1990, issue of the Seattle Times, ancestors of the tribe lived along a Swinomish slough that much more shallow. They caught salmon, gathered shellfish, hunted seals, dug roots and picked berries. There was family ownership of resources and fisheries, and shellfish beaches were managed carefully. They allowed escapement of salmon for future runs and shared with upriver people. Shellfish harvests were cycled to avoid over-harvesting beaches.

(Seattle Times depiction of the loom)
This is a Seattle Times depiction of the loom

      The boys' discovery led to a survey of the ancient sites by students from the three colleges which was directed by Dale Croes, research archeologist at WSU. Among their discoveries was a clamming basket of split cedar twigs that was preserved in wet deposits. It showed a weaving style from 500-1,200 years ago. They also found an old canoe-launching beach that had been covered with dredging spoils. Onat planned to search for artifacts beneath the spoils.
      The dog wool industry was so far back in history that no one living in 1990 remembered the dogs, but early explorers said they were small, usually white, sometimes brownish black, and resembled Pomeranians, a tiny breed with long, silky hair and tail curling over its back. The loom supports, such as the one the boys found, had slots for two horizontal bars, and were still used when European explorers first arrived. Women often supplemented the wool with goose down, plant material and mountain-goat wool, gathered from bushes in spring when animals shed. This industry from the upper Skagit is well known and must have been traded up and down the river.
      The excavations also reached deposits at lest 200 years old and uncovered stone adz blades, bone awls and harpoon points made of bone and antler. Tribal chairman Joe emphasized that he wanted the archeological project to teach young people for pride.
      You can read more of the prehistoric Skagit and Whidbey Island Indians at:

      We have encountered Ms. Onat before, when we followed the work of playwright Will Weigner, who wrote the wonderful community pageant, Common Wealth for the town of Darrington in 2005, after participating in Ms. Onat's field study project about the historic Sauk-Suiattle Indian camps and trading routes. Her projects are wide-ranging and entail intensive immersion into the environment of the area. Regarding the dogs, when researching the Munks family we recently found this sentence in an Oct. 8, 1953, issue of the Anacortes American: "Guemes island, called Dog Island, because it was teeming with wolflike wild dogs, was their favorite deer hunting grounds." Then, in that case, was 1858, so we assume that the Indians named the island and their description was anglicized to Dog. We hope that more readers will share archeological discoveries such as these.

      See this Journal website for a timeline of local, state, national and international events for years of the pioneer period.
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      Due to continued popular demand, in the interest of furthering our "open source" policy, we are assembling a collection of CDs that will include MS Word files of our pioneer profiles and town profiles from years 1-5, so that you can print them individually at your convenience. Inquire for details today via email or see our site about the planned CDs offering.

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(bullet) Story posted on Nov. 20, 2001, and last updated Sept. 10, 2006
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