Lower Chinook and Clatsop
Traditional Culture
  Since Time Immemorial
Who's Who
Village Life
Inter-Village Relations
Seasonal Round
"Celiast" and "Ilchee"
Intertribal Trade Network
Canoe People
References Cited

  Contemporary Culture
Environmental History
Cultural History
Recommended Websites

  Relationship with U.S.
  Early Coastal Exploration
Strangers Arrive
Maritime Fur Trade
Fort Clatsop Winter
Overland Fur Trade
Disease and Burial Customs
Fisheries, Missions, and Settlements
Shrinking Land Base
Making Treaties
Recognition and U.S. Relations
References Cited

Salmonberry in bloom
K. Lugthart photo

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George and Millie Lagergren

Signs of Spring

James G. Swan's “blubber feast”
“..a whale was washed ashore on the beach between Tokes's Point and Gray's Harbor, and all the Indians about the Bay went to get their share” (Swan 1857:360).

Contemporary image of a stranded whale being divided.
(Photo taken in Alaska.)

Whaler’s hat;
see detail of whale in weaving.
Image courtesy Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, WA

“These people are also ingenious in the manufacture of mats and rushes, and hats and baskets of grass. Some of their baskets are water tight, and many of them are ornamented with devices of beasts, birds, and flowers, worked in various colors” (Johnson and Winter 1932:60).

Oystermen waiting for the tide. James G. Swan sketch (Swan: 1857).
Courtesy of The University of Montana Mansfield Library, K. Ross Toole Archives, Special Collections.
Aerial view of Long Island in the Willapa Bay, looking north by northwest.
Michael Parker photo.
Starry Flounder
Starry Flounder
Drawing from the historical collection, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Epilobium angustifolium; and bee
“...if the fireweed was in bloom...”
K. Lugthart photo

“...the blackberries were ripe.”

Salal, Gaultheria shallon
Salal in bloom near Willapa Bay
K. Lugthart photo

Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum
Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College
Courtesy Berkeley Digital Library Project

Shot huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum Walter Knight © California Academy of Sciences.
Courtesy Berkeley Digital Library Project
© 2001-2003 Sheri C. Plyler

"Acorns in those sections of the country where the oak is found are gathered and stored for winter " (Gibbs 1877:194).
Sketch of camas
© Lynn Kitagawa
used with permission

Digging stick, for roots.
Courtesy Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Wa.
Fur Seals
National Marine Mammal Laboratory
Cedar bark and fiber cape.
Courtesy Maryhill Museum of Art,
Goldendale, WA
Dentalium cape.
Courtesy Maryhill Museum of Art,
Goldendale, WA

Fort Clatsop > Culture > Seasonal Round
Courtesy USGS
Smelt was the first fresh food anticipated by the people after a long winter of dried food. The arrival of the oil-rich smelt brought with them the anticipation of fresh greens and the long-awaited salmon.

Shell fish were available year-round, but they were especially pleasurable to gather after the long winter, and old-timers never eat them during the heat of summer.

Although an early run of Chinook salmon started soon after mid-winter, the Chinook people waited to greet their namesake and to ceremonially honor their return during the second run in the spring, when the salmon berries were ripening.

Spring Greens

Equisetum arvense -
Common Horsetail Rush

© 2002 Tony Morosco
Angelica lucida - Wild Celery
© Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College
Cow Parsnip -
Heracleum sphondylium

NPS photo

Salmonberry shoots are the absolute favorite first green. Before the great Chinook Salmon run, shoots start to break the surface of the ground and are “collected in bundles and brought into the lodge, where they are denuded of their tough outer skin, and the center is as crisp and tender as a cucumber, and being slightly acid, is delicious" (Swan 1857:87). Young shoots and stems of Horsetail Rush, Wild Celery and Cow Parsnip are eaten raw. These foods provide a welcome addition to the dried salmon eggs extensively used in earliest spring" (Swan 1857:88).

“I remember one thing my grandmother used to do was dry fish eggs. We’d hang them on a string, like a clothesline, and hang them around the chimney. We’d take the smaller ones because I suppose they dry a lot quicker. Dry your old fish eggs on it and eat ‘em with the salmonberry sprouts. I love that" (Sammy Pickernell interview: 2002).
Sammy Pickernell

Greens from young leaves of Nettle and Fireweed also add to the spring diet.

Plantago maritima Goose-tongue
© Br. Alfred Brousseau,
Saint Mary's College
“They had a green that they called the goose tongue. It looks like a goose tongue and it grows up about eight, ten inches tall. And, at the spring of the year, that grows and grows fast, and they pick that and they can boil that and eat that for a greens" (George Lagergren interview: 2002).

Sea Mammals/Whales

Sea mammals were also important foods. Several species of porpoises and whales migrated past the Columbia in spring and fall. Porpoises were hunted. It is unclear whether whales were ever hunted or whether they were simply scavenged when they washed ashore, like the one Clark investigated in February, 1806. Some of the cultural rules about whales were explained to Franz Boas by Charles Cultee:

“When the people of Sealand find a whale they tell a youth to go the town and to inform the people. A person who has to observe taboos is asked to go up and down [in his canoe] below the whale. Then he goes up and down below the whale. Thus also a person who cohabited the preceding night goes up and down below the whale. If no person who has to observe taboos would go up and down, it would drift away.
Charles Cultee
"Those who found the whale do not cut it; they wait for the chief. All the people reach the whale. Then the chief takes a stick and measures the whale from the head to the tail. Then he tells the people: ‘You will cut here; you will cut there.’ It is distributed among those people. The common people cut from the tail end. When it is all cut, it is carried to the town into the houses. When the whale is measured, the chief tells the people to make the [measuring] sticks two spans and one hand width long, if the whale is large; [two spans wide if the whale is smaller]. The people are told: ‘You cut here,’ and they cut the whale. Everything is done this way A cut two spans and one hand width large is exchanged for one blanket, or for a string of dentalia five shells longer than a fatheom. When a cut two spans large is sold it is exchanged for a ground-hog blanket" (Cultee in Boas 1894:262).

First Salmon Ceremony

Chinook Salmon
National Park Service image

"The salmon season of those tribes towards the mouth of the Columbia, commences in June: and its opening is an epoch looked forward to with much anxiety, and is attended with great formality. They have a public festival, and offer sacrifices. The first salmon caught is a consecrated thing; and is offered to the munificent Spirit, who is the giver of plenty. They have a superstitious scruple about he mode of cutting salmon' especially at the commencement of the season, before they have an assurance of a plentiful supply. To cut it crosswise, and to cast the heart into the water, they consider most unlucky, and likely to bring on a scarce season. Hence they are very reluctant to supply the traders at the stations with any until the season is advanced, and they can calculate on their probable stock; lest an unlucky cross cut by the white men may mar all their prospects. Their mode is to cut it along the back; they take out the back bone, and most studiously avoid throwing the heart into the water. The heart they broil and eat; but will not eat it after sun set" (Dunn: 1846).

Visit the 2003 Salmon Ceremony page
on the official Chinook Nation website.



Images from First Salmon Ceremony 2003
Courtesy official Chinook Nation website

Seasonal Promptings

"And where there was a little stream, that's where all the old Indian camps were. They could get in there with a canoe at certain stages of the tide. Some of them were harder to get in on the tides, but most of the time, the people were not in a big hurry to get somewhere. They waited and they went, and they used the tide and they had their mind on that water. When that tide was getting right, they'd go and get in their canoes, and go out and get their clams or catch fish or whatever they wanted to do.

“And they migrated a quite a bit, they had to travel and migrate from one stream to the other to get their fish. And there were certain places that they went and their fish were easier to catch for them and they knew where those places were. And they would come at the season when the fish would run. And that’s where they’d gather and smoke and prepare their fish, you know. And that’s the way, that was the way they done in those days, they went. They would come at the season when the fish would run. And that's where they'd gather and smoke and prepare their fish. At these certain places the Indian people would come and they'd camp and prepare their fish, and their food, and pick the berries, and prepare their winter food.

"The group that lived at Long Island, they were all canoe people. The only way in and out of there was by canoe, and they had almost anything that they wanted there, but they would travel around to catch their fish. They knew when the fish runs were coming, and they knew when they should be here and when they should be there. Oysters and clams were available all year round, anytime. The tides were all they had to go by. But in order to catch the fish and then the berries, they had to travel in that season when the berries were ripe and then when the fish runs came in" (George Lagergren interview: 2002).

Read about fishing seasons and methods.


Summer was a time of great abundance. After the First Salmon Ceremony, the Chinook Salmon continued to run for several weeks, followed by another run that began in late July. The Silver Salmon also ran at this time “but does not long remain near the mouth of the river" (Ray 1938:107). The Dog Salmon followed close behind, beginning around mid-August. Steelhead trout were abundant in the Columbia River and they weighed up to 45 pounds. A single sturgeon could provide a feast for a large village.

“And in those days, you see, there was a run of Chinook Salmon that came in about the, around the fourth of July, the first part of July, there was a really beautiful nice Chinook Salmon that came in at that time, but they’re gone now. There’s none of those left that I have seen" (George Lagergren interview: 2002).

Women enjoyed gathering flounder by wading barefoot in the shallows and feeling them out with their feet.

“The turbot and flounders are caught while wading in the water by means of the feet. The Indian wades along slowly, and, as soon as he feels a fish with his feet, he steps quickly on it and holds it firmly till he can reach hold of it with his hand, when he gives it a jerk, an away it flies far into the flats. This process is repeated till enough fish are caught, when they are picked up, put in a basket, and carried to the canoe. The turbot are much like the English turbot, but smaller; the largest. have ever seen weighed twenty pounds. The flounder are similar to those of the Atlantic at New York or Bos ton. They are easily taken by this method of the Indians, as their rough backs prevent them slipping from under the feet. The catching affords a deal of fun, as usually quite a number are engaged in the sport, am their splashing, slipping, screaming, and laughing make a lively time. These fish, like all the fish in the Bay, are very fine and well flavored" (Swan 1857:83).

Background: Starry Flounder, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Summer was a luscious succession of one ripening fruit and root after another. Roots “furnish a considerable proportion of the subsistence…" and they were highly valued and disposed of sparingly (Lewis in Moulton, V.6,1990:224). One of their most important roots, the wapato, was “found only in one corner of Lower Chinook territory, the south side of the Columbia river opposite and above Puget Island. Therefore most of the roots were obtained by trade, principally from the Klatskanie" (Ray 1938:119). Lewis and Clark called it the principal item of trade between the upriver peoples and those on the coast. (Clark in Moulton, V.6,1990:229)
Wappato (Tule Potato), Sagittaria latifolia
© Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College
Courtesy Berkeley Digital Library Project

Wappato was gathered in fall and spring, when roots are strongest.


George and Millie Lagergren

Millie: “When I was just a young girl my grandmother told me that when they were getting ready to harvest the little wild blackberries, they would send a scout ahead to see if the berries were ready. They would go up the rivers, then, from the canoe, just look up on the hillsides and if the fireweed was in bloom the blackberries were ripe. And that way they didn’t have to climb the hills to look, they could just tell from the fireweed. When the blooms came out, they knew it was time to go out and gather their wild blackberries.

“They’re really sweet when they’re ripe. Everybody thinks it’s a real treat to get wild blackberry pie. It’s usually late July when the wild blackberries come out.

George: “Salal berries and huckleberries, they come on in July, and there’s a late berry that we call a shot berry. It’s like a little beebee.

“Down in this part of the country here, we got the red huckleberry and then we got the blue huckleberry and then we got the black huckleberry. And the black one is not so sweet, and the blue one is the better one. The red ones are clusters of red berries.

“We call it the shot berry. An evergreen huckleberry they call it. They, they buy that for the florists, for their flowers. A lot of people around the country, they have a job of doing that for their livelihood. There is some legend about it, but I couldn’t repeat it

“Of the berries, such as the strawberry, salmon-berry, raspberry, and others which are not suitable for drying, are consumed at once; but the huckleberry, of which there are several kinds, sallal, &c., are dried and stored for winter’s use. The salmon-berry, a large and somewhat coarse species of raspberry, is abundant in the river bottoms, and grows to about an inch in length. There are two varieties, the yellow and purple. It obtains its name from its ripening about the same time with the height of the salmon season on the Columbia, and its association with that fish in Indian superstition" (Gibbs 1877:194).

Summer’s End, Celebration and Preparation

"Though they occasionally can procure the flesh of elks, deer, and the waterfowls of the ponds and rivers, their chief subsistence if fish, chiefly salmon, which abounds in the river, and inlets; and roots, and berries, which the women go a gipsying in groups at the proper season to collect in the upper part of the country. This season is a time of hilarity; and the women bepaint their faces and persons with a sort of vermillion paint, partly to protect them form the sun, and partly to present a gay and fantastic appearance. These roots and berries they make into cakes, which they dry in the sun. These cakes, and preserved fish, with a n accompaniment of venison, form their winter store, of which they generally have no lack" (Dunn: 1846).



Chum or dog salmon
NPS photo
Soho or silver salmon
NPS photo

Fishing declined as the days grew shorter. The last of the Chinook Salmon runs came in late July and lasted to early October. The Dog Salmon and Silver Salmon ran to November, but these runs were less important than the earlier runs of Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Trout.

Read about salmon spawning and migration in the Columbia River,
and winter supplies for the “Tsinuk", by George Gibbs.

Men shifted the attention to hunting elk and deer. "When the salmon begin to decline in the latter end of summer and autumn the natives leave the river, at least a majority, and remove to the plains at some distance for the purpose of hunting the antelope" (Lewis in Moulton, V.6,1990:336).

“When a hunter has killed a male elk far away, then twelve men go to fetch it. When he has killed a female elk, eight go to fetch it. When a hunter has killed two elks, many people go to fetch it. When he has killed many, then it is dried in the woods [it is not carried away]. The people go home when it is dry, and the hunter distributes the meat among all the people" (Cultee in Boaz 1894:264-5).

Many species of small game animals were also hunted or snared.

Camas roots were dug in September and October, as well as in the spring

“The roots used are numerous; but the wappatu, or sagittaria, and the kamas are the principal. These are found in great quantities, the former in ponds, the latter in the prairies, particularly such as are wet; and they were formerly a great article of trade with the interior. Besides these, the roots of the sunflower and fern are largely used,, and a small white root of rather insipid, taste. From the fern, ‘they make a species of flour which is baked into bread. The kamas season is in the latter part of May and June, and then as well as in the fall when the sunflower is dug, the prairies are dotted over with squaws, each armed with a sharp stake and a basket, busily engaged in digging them. At these times, camps are generally found near the skirts of timber which border the open lands for the convenience of gathering and preserving. The kamas is baked in the ground, a hole being first dug and heated with stones, and the root covered over with twigs and earth. There are numerous other roots and plants used in their fresh state" (Gibbs 1877:193-4).


“The summer camps were abandoned by the time the days grew short and the rain fell with great regularity. The people returned to their protected villages, away from the river winds, settling into their longhouse life once again. Winter winds and storms come out of the southeast and southwest and so villages were located on the protected north sides of hills… They wanted to have the protected areas where they lived because that’s where their children were born and it made an easier life for them" (George Lagergren 2002).

People didn’t just stay inside all winter long. Sometimes men and women went in search of food during the winter, because their stores of food were running low. Women could gather mussels and men could hunt various mammals of the land and sea. Hair Seals, an important source of food as well as clothing, migrated through from December until spring. (Swan 1857:84) image
Fur-seal. Callorhinus ursinus
Drawing from the historical collection, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Men also hunted elk and deer during the winter season, and sea lions were another source of winter food. This was the case in one of the stories told to Franz Boas by Charles Cultee. In this myth about Blue-Jay and his wife, Stikua’, the men go in search of sea lions to quell their hunger.

“Many people were living at Nakot !a’t (Seaside). Now their chief died. He had [left] a son who was almost grown up. It was winter and the people were hungry. They had only mussels and roots to eat. Once upon a time a hunter said: ‘Make yourselves ready.’ All the men made themselves ready and went seaward in two canoes. Then the hunter speared a sealion. It jumped and drifted on the water [dead]. They hauled it ashore. Blue-Jay said: ‘Let us boil it here.’ They made a fire and singed it. They cut it and boiled it. Blue-Jay said: ‘Let us eat it here, let us eat all of it!’ Then the people ate…" (Cultee in Boas 1894:140).

Background: Portion of James G. Swan sketch “Point Grenville" (Swan:1857)
Courtesy of The University of Montana Mansfield Library, K. Ross Toole Archives, Special Collections.