The History of Washington State

The History of Washington
Chapter 

 

By Holice, Pam, and Deb

Extra special thanks to Holice B. Young for transcribing this series of books!

 

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CHAPTER XX.

 

WASHINGTON INDIANS OF TODAY--PATSY, THE POTLACH-GIVER.

 

"'Bis dat qui cito dat,' he sings,

Who in Italia dwells.

'He giveth twice who quickly gives,'

As our translation tells.

Poor Patsy's 'potlach' party done,

Behold him stripped of all

The wealth by years of labor won,

Scattered beyond recall.

Yet most ungrudgingly he yields

To kith and kin his store,

Who thankless take each proffered gift,

Then hasten from the shore,

And while with paddles deftly plied

Their homeward way they wend,

The 'potlach' giver only fears

Lest he forgot some friend.'"

--BREWERTON.

 

The following is Judge James Wickersham's interesting description of a Toanhooch Indian Potlach, as read before the Academy of Science:

"The word 'potlach' in the Chinook means a gift; 'cultus potlach' means that something is given that is of no consequence or not valuable; but the real idea expressed in speaking of a 'potlach'--without qualification--is of a great meeting of the friends of some Indian who has accumulated Indian wealth, and who will, at such gathering, after the proper religious and other ceremonies, give away all his possessions--stripping himself and family in one hour of a fortune won by yeas of hard work and economy--out Bellamying-Bellamy, and practically illustrating the scriptural injunction that it is better to give than to receive. With this general idea of a 'potlach' in my mind, and in obedience to the expressed wish of the Washington Historical Society, I undertook to attend a 'potlach' announced

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far and near by the 'Boston man's' papers to take place at Port Hadlock, on Port Townsend Bay, July 4th, 1891. Just across the bay from Port Hadlock, probably a quarter of a mile away, we could see the white cloth roof of the low-long building erected by Patsy, the wealthy potlach-giver, for the uses of his friends, and under the roof of which ceremonies would take place. Down the bay could be seen coming potlachward many canoes loaded with aborigines from Skagit, Snoqualmie, Skokomish, Port Madison, Neah Bay, and even from Quillayute, Quinalt, and "Kaouk," or Lake of the Sun, on the Pacific Coast. At dusk the opening ceremonies were to take place, and while the Indian is slow, dignified, and quiet, while he is reserved and stoical, yet he is fond of ceremony, and will make very effort to be present at the opening of every great pow-wow. By dark on the evening of the 3d, fully five hundred Indians were camped in and around the potlach ground. As the sun descended behind the Olympics its last rays, falling across the waters of this beautiful bay, lit up a scene truly barbaric. Upon the beach, pulled high above the tide, were the great war canoes of the coast tribes, as well as the smaller but equally well made and gaudily painted 'canims' of the Sound Indians. On a grassy spot of about two acres in extent and not more than ten feet above the 'salt-chuck,' Patsy, the potlach-giver, had erected of old boards and refuse lumber a building one hundred feet long by forty wide, and had covered the entire structure with thin white cloth purchased at the Hadlock mill store. The balance of the open space was filled with tents and every variety of Indian shelter. The whole space was crowded with a moving throng of Indians, talking and shouting, with many motions and much excitement, carrying their property of every description from their canoes to their temporary homes, and all engaged in getting their quarters into proper shape for the night and the coming ceremonies.

"Patsy, the potlach-giver, went around among the arrivals and distributed stores of crackers and other eatables, so that every person present was supplied with food and shelter. After a hearty supper, everybody, including the 'Boston' present, gathered in the great potlach house. A door at each end gave entrance and exit. There was no window, and no necessity for one, as the nature of the roof afforded a light equal to that out-

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side in the daytime, the whole building being lighted at night by coal-oil lamps fastened to great posts down the centre of the room. On either side, the full length of the building, a shell-like platform had been build about two feet high and abut feet wide, and upon this reclined all these five hundred Indians, clothed in their many-colored and ill-fitting garments and smelling of fish, good, bad, and indifferent, but especially indifferent. Patsy, the giver of feasts, the open-hearted potlach-giver, is a native of the Skokomish country, and was born on the portage between North Bay and Hood's Canal. His Indian name is 'Shupald.' He is a heavy-set man, bow-legged and fishy, and wears an old cap, heavy brogans, brown and very greasy over-alls, a checkered shirt, and a cast-off coat of ancient pattern, with a bright handkerchief around his neck, a stubby beard, a flat nose, broad face, thick lips, and black, beady eyes, with a complexion originally bronze, but colored and grimed with the smoke of full sixty years--a sketch which completes a rather flattering picture of the host of the evening.

"It was whispered that part of the ceremonies in the next two days would be the bidding in marriage to patsy of the new wives, the daughters of Snohomish; but the Prince of Wales, the head of the noble House of York, who sports brass buttons and represents the whole dignity of the United States government by his appointment on the Indian police force, assured inquirers that no polygamous marriages were allowed by him; that in the past, in 'Ahncutty,' in good old days, the giver of feasts, at the ceremonies of the 'potlach' would take new wives; but a vulgar prejudice on the part of the Indian agent now prevents this old custom. 'Aunt Sally' is the Boston name of Shupald's wife. She is an ancient Klootchman, pierced-nosed, flat-headed, and frowsy, and born Squaxinward, many, many years ago. At cub of a son, heir to Shupald's honor, completes the family that is for the time the centre of attraction, the potlach-givers, the most aristocratic of Twana aristocrats. The Siwash four hundred are gathered in the great hall, and a Snohomish brave advances to the centre of the room and announces in a loud voice the opening ceremonies. He speaks of the coming potlach, of the goodness of Shupald, of his wealth and the glory that he obtains by giving in potlach. He then turns Snohomishward, and many an Indian face streamed with tears as he spoke of the

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great gatherings of their fathers of the times that would never return, of the departed glory of their race, of the dwindling tribes, and the fading away of their olden customs.

"He then announced that the Snohomish people would entertain the assembly by exercises, and at once proceeded to callout ina loud voice the works of songs. Slowly, laboriously, and coldly the Snohomish joined in the guttural song, keeping time by walking and leaping around the room. A verse would be announced by the leader during a moment of silence and waiting, which would at once be taken up by the tribe and sung three times over, and ending with a general squatting motion and a loud 'Ho.' At an opportune moment the leader would again recount the glories of the tribe, and this Snohomish entertainment went on this way until a late hour at night. When we saw the last, the dance was in the dizziest whirl, and loud rose the voices of the dancers, while the raised platform along the sides of the 'rancherie' were filled with sleeping forms that even excitement and the traditions of the 'Snoho' people had not kept awake.

GIVING AWAY HIS SUBSTANCE.

 

"On the morning of the Fourth the throng gathered again in the banquet hall, and Patsy--Shupald--the potlach-giver, divided boxes of eatables, cracker, and other prepared foods of 'Boston' manufacture among his friends. They were seated around the hall, silent and grave; the host's assistants were carrying the loaded boxes in from the storehouse, and while some were breaking them open, Patsy, with pride and happiness fairly beaming upon his face, was engaged in handing out to others their contents, who distributed them, laying each gift at the feet of the person for whom it was intended, informing him that it was from Shupald. That 'it is better to give then to receive' is fully exemplified by these unorthodox Siwash, for so little do they think of the receipt of potlach valuable, that they take it as a matter of course, and utter no word of thanks, while to the give lifelong credit attaches.

"Late in the evening the Indians began to congregate upon the potlach ground from the Boston man's Fourth of July festivi

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ties, and when we crossed the bay at dark to the camp everything was excitement in anticipation of the events of the season. All Siwashdom, the entire four hundred, would hold a great ball in the potlach house, given by the Clallam people, and it was expected to be the grandest for many years.

 

"The dance began early in the evening, and between the songs and the dances different old Indians made speeches in their native tongues of a character to excite the dancers all the more. The glories f the Clallam nation were recounted; the daring of Makah whale-hunters, of Quill-ayute elk-slayers, of Snohomish salmon-catchers, and of the various feats of daring performed by various individual members of their tribe were retold to an interested and thoroughly appreciative audience. The dancing waxed faster, and the music louder as the songs and oft-repeated tales warmed the blood of the listeners. The Siwash audience applauded each new song, and shouted with pride at every tale of glory.

"Of the dancers, about one third were women ranged in a line up and down the hall on the south side, while the men occupied the centre. They danced backward and forward, lengthwise of the hall, and as the stories grew louder and the songs more frequent, the dancing became more animated. Guns, paddles, spears, and war clubs were waved in the air by the fur-covered aborigines, who danced rapidly from one foot to another, while occupying positions with their arms above their heads, and every power of lung exerted in song or on shouts of approval and triumph. The rows of blanket-covered Klootchmen, with flying feathery white hear and faces streaming with perspiration, rapidly dancing backward and forward, up and down the length of the hundred-foot 'potlach' hall, filled to the roof on either side by the crowds of gayly colored and highly excited Indians, made indeed a barbaric scene. Decrepit old hags, toothless and bent with years of clam-digging, became young and vigorous under the inspiration of the occasion, and danced like howling demons, flying from end to end of the great all as though age and rheumatism of sixty years of tent life had not touched them. Old men, aged and gray, straightened and danced with the suppleness of youth, and as the music grew louder and the dance faster their voices grew stronger, and possibly never in

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Clallamdom has amore thoroughly Indian dance been danced or an Indian song been sung.

THE POTLACH PROPER.

 

"Bright and early on Sunday morning, the 'potlach' proper began. All else had been ceremony--social, religious, and patriotic; but the purpose of the assemblage was the 'potlach,' which now began. The entire multitude was gathered in the house, and quietness and peace ruled the hour. the visitors had performed this part, and now merely waited for Shupald to do his. At the west end of the hall boxes and packages were being broken open and the contents arranged on the floor by Shupald and his friend, 'Skokomish Jim,' Di-Dah-Quah. Great bolts of calico of the hues so pleasing to the Indian eye were being unrolled and cut into length sufficient for a dress by the Indian women. Upon a motion from Shupald, Sally, the frowsy, the aristocratic wife, who smelled of fish and various other things, was loaded with strips of calico about six years long, of all colors and varieties. They put as many pieces of cloth across her arm as she could conveniently manage, and she started down the hall, distributing the cloth to every female in the house. The crisp, new calico dragged in a long trail behind her, and she continued to load her left arm and drag the cloth around the room until every Klootchman had received a dress, and thus distributed more than fifteen hundred yards of new calico to the friends of her husband, patsy, the noble Shupald, the potlach-giver. Many baskets and other feminine trinkets were also distributed by Sally. During the time of the distribution of the calico patsy stood amid the packages of goods and spoke to the people; he told them how much he loved his friends, and spoke particularly of many with whom he had been raised; and when he referred to his age and numerous friends who were dead, and of the possibility that he would never meet those who were present at a potlach, he broke down and cried, and many an old Indian around the room showed equal signs of feeling and sympathy. A fitting reply was made to patsy's speech by an Indian, who was applauded when he spoke of Patsy's generosity and of the honor due him for giving the potlach.

"After distributing the calico and other feminine trinkets, the

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'chickamin potlach' took place--in other words, Patsy's money was distributed. The money was entirely in silver, and the bags containing it were carried into the centre of the room and it was poured our on the floor. Patsy's son furnished about one third of the money, and from the interest that Aunt Sally exhibited in this part of the ceremony, it was quite clear to my mind that she, too, had assisted in fathering the purse. These three squatted around the pile, and, assisted by the "Prince of Wales," sorted the money into various little heaps. After consultation a sum--say two dollars--would be handed to Di-Dah-Quah, the master of ceremonies, who would rise on his toes and hold the money at arm's length above his head and callout the name of the person for whom it was intended. A carrier would then receive the money and take it to the person named, who would slip it in his pocket without a word of thanks or otherwise. Slowly and carefully the whole of Patsy's money was distributed in this way to his friends, and by two o'clock in the afternoon no one was so poor as Patsy. The saving of a lifetime had been potlached to his friends. About two thousand dollars in cash had been given away in one day, and his entire worldly possession now consisted of his family and the clothes upon his back. but he had gained social distinction. He was the Ward McAllister of the Siwash Four Hundred; of the select, the selectest; of the blue-blooded, the bluest. He now sailed upon the topmsot crest of the social wave, and was the envy of all, save possibly some degenerated Siwash that had learned that money among the 'Bostons' counted for more than social distinction among the Siwash.

"The moment the last dollar was potlached the meeting broke up and everybody hastened to load the canoes for departure. Some of the young men quickly stripped the white cloth roof from the house, the tents were pulled down, and all the 'iktas' kids and cats were hastily packed into the canoes, and soon the entire assemblage was homeward bound. Aunt Sally, however, lingered. After the last canoe had pushed off she entered the banquet hall, now deserted, and roofless, and struck up a wild Indian song in glory of Patsy, the potlach-giver, and accompanied her loud, cracked voice by beating upon a board. Quickly we gathered around and assisted the old lady to the best of our ability in the performance. For a short time she continued to

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sing and dance and then subsided, and the potlach was ended."

Who shall say, after reading Judge Wickersham's graphic account of the potlach party, that the Indian is degenerate? If the Vanderbilts and Astors of to-day were to follow so laudable an example, what scribe would not be pleased to sit an honored guest at so generous a feast?

 

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