Honoring our History: Snoqualmie Valley 101 (Part One)

Recently I attended the North Bend Citizens Academy, a seven-week interactive course designed to provide an in-depth look into city operations. The first class included a presentation by Cristy Lake, Assistant Director of the Snoqualmie Valley Museum, on area history.

The presentation was so fascinating I asked Cristy if we could include it as a regular feature to better inform residents of Valley history and the people who helped shape the place we call home. This is part one of that series.

-Guest Post by Cristy Lake

Extending from Snoqualmie Pass in the SE to Snohomish in the NW. The Valley incorporates three forks of Snoqualmie River, the Raging River Basin, and the Tolt River Basin. Snoqualmie Valley was formed by volcanic and glacial activity.

A period of cooler temperatures and lower sea levels, the Pleistocene Epoch was 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago. The cooler temperatures triggered a glacial period that affected the Valley.

Two types of glacial activity carved the Valley.

Grouse Ridge Gravel Deposits. Western Washington rivers coursed around the front of the glacier. Gravel was dumped at the Last Glacial Maximum

Alpine Glaciers coming down the Cascade Mountains to the foothills had their glacial maximum 20,000 years ago and had retreated 14,000 years ago. They were 2100 feet deep in Middle Fork. During a warming period 8000 to 3000 years ago, the remaining Alpine Glaciers melted. These glaciers began reforming 3000 years ago, only to melt again in the last few decades.

The Vashon Glacier was part of the Continental Ice Sheet that came down from Canada. It was part of the Puget lobe of the Cordilleran Ice sheet that had its maximum 14,000 years ago. It was 2400-3300 feet deep. Vashon Glacier advanced and retreated multiple times.

Each advance created a gravel dam — blocking the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie and forming a vast lake. Each time the lake breached the gravel barrier, water, carrying masses of rock and aggregate, rushed in to fill the Valley.

Multiple bursting of these gravel dams filled our valley with gravel and boulders.

Grouse Ridge and the ridge that separates the Cedar River from the Snoqualmie River were both part of the gravel dumped at the Last Glacial Maximum.

The glacier paused to create Snoqualmie Falls, where the gravel dam pushed the river over onto bedrock. When the glacier finally receded, the river was unable to cut through the rock and the Falls were formed. The Valley, filled with gravel, is a giant untapped aquifer — a water supply for the future of the Puget Sound area. Snoqualmie Falls is the place of Creation for the Snoqualmie People and remains a sacred site to this day.

 “The Snoqualmie Tribal creation began on the meadows of the Upper Valley,” inspired by the Snoqualmie People’s creation story.

This oral history and others like it have been passed down for generations explaining the transformation of the landscape and life through the eons. Though many people have focused on the moral teachings these stories have, work is being done by archaeologists and linguistics showing oral histories like these directly can be tied to the landscape and events that existed during the Ice Age here locally. They have been able to directly tie elements in these histories to the landscape and life that existed over 10,000 years ago.

As the glaciers retreated, the Valley floor became a natural grassy prairie. Wildlife naturally lived at the edge between the prairie and the forest. Mountain goats were a food source, and their wool was a staple for the woven blankets of the Snoqualmie People.

Over the years, the forests returned — but the Valley floor remained a prairie through traditional tending by the Snoqualmie People. Most prominently, the largest Snoqualmie prairie sat above Snoqualmie Falls in the upper valley.

Western Redcedar, one of the most prolific trees in Western Washington, prospered. This tree provided the Snoqualmie People with their longhouses, baskets, skirts, hats, ropes, canoes and watertight boxes.

Snoqualmie Pass, the State’s lowest cross-Cascade pass at 3,022 feet, has long served as a conduit for people and goods between the east and west sides of the mountains.

Native peoples, including the Snoqualmie, Yakama, Klickitat, and many others, walked and, after the 1730s, rode horses over a number of mountain passes to trade and socialize.

Because of the Pass, the Snoqualmie had access to trading and mineral resources. Through the trade networks, they also accessed resources of the Saltwater Shoreline zone through Snohomish Allies and Sagebrush Steppe zone through trading with the Klickitat and Yakima.

These resources provided a rich abundance for the local communities. Controlling the trade route over the Pass, Snoqualmie Valley residents were a major power in the region.

On September 14, 1851, the first European-American King County settlers on arrived near modern-day Seattle. The party included the Collins Family.  The young daughter of the Collins was Lucinda, who would one day become the first white woman to settle in the Valley.

In the 1850s, Army Captain George McClellan and Lieutenant Abiel Tinkham (1854), and Seattle businessmen Dexter Horton and Carson Boren (1855), tried to survey routes through Snoqualmie Pass for purposed wagon roads and transcontinental railroads.

Several mistakenly took the higher Yakima Pass just south of Snoqualmie and were stymied by the difficult crossing.

National disputes that would lead to the Civil War and local conflicts over treaties between tribes and the federal government slowed efforts to develop a trans-mountain route.

In his 1855 survey, Dexter Horton joined Judge Edward Lander, Carson Boren, Charles Plummer and others on an expedition to find the best Cascade Mountain pass. The party traveled to Squak (Issaquah), then to Snoqualmie Falls, where they divided into two groups.

Each team used Native American trails. One is referred to as the old Hudson’s Bay pack trail, and the other is a traditional Indian trail. The teams met at Lake Keechelus, parted again, and returned to Seattle to discuss their efforts.

These American explorers not only sought a general passage through the barrier mountains, but they also wanted to take advantage of gold discoveries in Eastern Washington. They also had an eye on the dream of Arthur A. Denny of a direct railroad route from the East.

Point Elliott Treaty, National Archives

On January 22, 1855, near Mukilteo, the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed.

The 1855 Treaty created a Government-to-Government relationship between the United States and the Native American Tribes involved in the treaty. The United States Senate ratified the Point Elliott Treaty in 1859.  The Treaty of Point Elliott guaranteed hunting and fishing rights and reservations to all Tribes represented by the Native signers.

In return for the reservation and other benefits promised in the treaty by the United States government, the Tribes exchanged over 54,000 acres of their homeland. Today those 54,000 acres include the cities of Seattle, Renton, Tukwila, Bellevue, and Mercer Island, and much of King County.

The Snoqualmie People, along with other tribes, signed the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855 with the United States, ceding lands in return for hunting, gathering and fishing rights as well as reserved land to live.

These and other treaty promises did not materialize, but settlers moved in to take the lands. Unrest built, and the Indian Wars began.

Cristy will be presenting Snoqualmie 101 at the Snoqualmie Library on July 12th and North Bend 101 at North Bend Library on the 19th at 6:30pm.

[Guest post by North Bend resident Cristy Lake: Assistant Director, Snoqualmie Valley Museum; Collections Registrar, Northwest Railway Museum; King County Landmarks Commission Chair; MA in Historical Archaeology.]

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