By Russell Neyman.
Chairman, Yukon Harbor Historical Society.
The Native American presence in the Curley Creek region was, apparently, more widespread than we previously thought. None of us who regularly contribute to the YHHS effort are either archaeologists or experts on tribal history, but we are surprised at the ample evidence of their activity long before homesteaders arrived.
Various accounts exist that there was a fairly substantial “winter camp” on the low, sandy beach just to the north of the creek. Before Southworth drive was graded and widened, that lowland was much larger, and once held at least one Suquamish long house and out buildings. Some accounts indicate that their could have been four. We are in the process of learning more about those local settlements, notably through obtaining copies of the Wilkes Expedition of Exploration (1841) surveys. According to Larwich, Wilkes sent a party ashore at Curley Creek (perhaps led by Lt. Cadwalader Ringgold) to inspect the village and survey the landscape. This village was noted on United States Army maps as late as 1943, although it had virtually disappeared by the time the town of Colby was built. Letters and diaries from the local settlers specifically tell of Indians who occasionally arrived to trade and barter with the merchants.
A “winter camp” would seem to indicate that it was only occupied during the coldest times of the year, but Native American researchers tell us that the tribes were basically nomadic — moving camps from one fishing and hunting location frequently, following the migratory patterns of the wildlife — but they maintained year-round base camps, such as the one at Curley Creek, so that they could stay warm and fed during the coldest months. After all, the winters were as harsh then as they are now, and many of the elderly tribespeople found travel difficult, as did mothers with newborn children. As we understand it, the winter camps served as a year-round home for them.
Dennis Larwich, the Suquamish Tribe historian, briefly outlined what everyday Suquamish life was like at a May 24th presentation on Bainbridge Island. He also noted that a Clovis-era spearhead was discovered in 1995 near the intersection of Garfield Avenue and Frog Pond Road, showing that this area was inhabited by mankind even then. The sea levels were higher and the waterline was quite different (Puget Sound has been altered by huge tsunamis and earthquakes, too) so it is probably that the artifact was part of a fishing and hunting village along the beach. The Clovis era was roughly 13-thousand years ago.
Incidentally, it is easy to misunderstand some aspects of Clovis projectile points and their relationship to the Curley Creek region because, as luck would have it, there is also a well-known “Colby Clovis Spearhead.” That discovery has nothing to do with the town of Colby but, rather, was found in Wyoming and was named for its discoverer, Daniel Colby.
In his presentation, Larwich hypothesized that the tribes were active here from the Clovis timeframe all the way through the mid-1800’s when European settlers arrived.
What happened to it? Was it destroyed by fire or by settlers? Was it simply dismantled by the Suquamish and moved elsewhere? Did it become obsolete (as the town of Colby did) and merely melt away?
Since we first began to research this topic, we have learned about the discovery of multiple artifacts throughout the area: additional arrowheads reportedly found on farm property along Garfield Avenue; a mortar-and-pestle discovered along the creek that parallels Hinkley Road; a larger projectile tip found during the excavation of a basement in the Colchester area. One suspects that there are countless other items that have gone unreported, either because the homeowners were worried their land might be taken over as an archaeological did site, or because they simply did not understand what they had found.
With all these pieces of evidence turning up in so many different locations, it is easy to imagine the shoreline, creeks and hills filled with hundreds of Suquamish hunting and fishing and going about everyday tasks. Canoes would be lined up on the beach, with children playing on the sand, and mothers not far away watching the children and preparing food. The Suquamish would have fished, hunted birds, and gathered wild berries. This lifestyle probably lasted for hundreds of years. We have a great deal to learn about this, and intend to dig deeper.
It is extremely likely that there will be hundreds — perhaps thousands — of additional artifacts and clues to their time here discovered over time. We encourage our viewers to survey the area, too, and would enjoy hearing from local residents who make finds.
For more on the Yukon Harbor Clovis-Era Projectile Point, go to http://qmackie.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/more-on-puget-sound-clovis/#more-3548