Mother of the
Wolf Children

The legend of the mother and wolf children describe the origin of the village on Sequim Bay.
She is carved with her digging stick and harvested clams, a delicacy, and important resource for the Tribe throughout history.
From the Dance Plaza House Post Carvings - Dale Faulstich, Lead Carver and Designer.
Assistant Carvers: Nathan Gilles and Ed Charles. Volunteer carvers: Harry Burlingone and Don Walsh.

S'Klallam Tribe

1033 Old Blyn Hwy
Sequim, WA 98382
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Jamestown S'Klallam History
Coastal Salish Canoes
Coastal Salish Weaving
Dungeness Massacre
Indian Homes
Men's Responsibilities
Women's Responsibilities
Stages of Life
Treaty of 1855
Tamanowas Rock Sanctuary
S'Klallam Villages



Women's Responsibilities


Cooking and Housekeeping

Tasks which revolved around the home, including cooking and housekeeping, usually were the responsibility of women. These traditional tasks were usually performed in the company of the other women in the home or sometimes in the village; there was a feeling of communal responsibility for these tasks. Housekeeping duties were simple sweeping, arranging the bedding, assuring all utensils and tools were in order. Things were simpler then when one realizes that people did not have various outfits of clothes and numerous pairs of shoes, even the wealthier Coastal groups. Clutter was not a problem.

Cooking required more planning and work than today's homemaker devotes to these tasks. Their methods of cooking were similar to those of the modern homemaker broiling or roasting, baking and boiling. But appliances were not available as they are today.

Coastal and Puget Sound Region

There was usually plenty to eat in the Coastal and Puget Sound Indian house. The shelves below the rafters were piled with dried fish, meat, roots and berries, and with fish oil which served as cream, butter and salad dressing. A family could live well for weeks and even give feasts without going outside the house. During summer the family moved from camp to camp, living completely on each kind of fresh meat or vegetable food they found available. Cooking methods used were broiling or roasting, baking and boiling.Salmon and small fish roasting over hot fire

Broiling or roasting was the method for cooking fresh foods. It took little time and required no more equipment than a few green sticks with pointed ends. On these a fresh fish or a strip of meat was propped before the embers. When they wanted salt, they used sea water or seaweed which was not to be found at inland camps.

Meal service in the Indian home was quite an elaborate affair, though more informal at their summer camps. There were generally two meals a day one at mid-morning when the first bout of work was over, and the last meal at sunset.

The Indians rose at dawn and washed in the rivers which were always near their houses. Then the men and younger women went out to work. If they were going far, they might take some camas bread or dried berries. The older women swept the sand around the fireplace with cedar branches then broke up some of the cedar bark which was their usual firewood and piled it on the fire which was left smoldering from the previous night. They put some stones in the fire to heat and carried water from the river in a wooden box or water-tight basket.

Then the woman would get out the dried food she planned to serve. If it was fish, she had probably started soaking it the day before because dried salmon, as tough and shrunken as kindling wood, takes up a great deal of water. She took it from the soaking bowl and pounded it, removing the bones she found. Then she placed it in the boiling box and added a little seaweed to salt it.

When the family arrived for the meal, perhaps with some guests, the men sat down first. All knew the rules for table manners so before sitting down, they rinsed their mouths out with water. Then a bunch of shredded cedar bark which served as a towel was passed around. Each wiped the grime of the morning's work from his hands then washed them in a bowl of water and wiped again. Finally, each took a drink of water from the drinking bowl because it was not proper to drink during meals. If the meal was elaborate, a woman might serve a course of plain dried fish with oil before the cooked food was served. In that case, she laid the dried food on the mat and placed a small bowl of oil for each two or three guests. When the course was over, there were some oily fingers and a helper went around with the shredded cedar and the bucket of water. With scores of lakes, rivers and streams, water was plentiful.

Courses of cooked food were served in dishes. These were wooden platters shaped somewhat like a canoe though they were flat on the bottom. A dish might be a foot and a half or two feet long, and in one corner of it stood the oil dish. They ate with ladles made of wood or mountain goat horn; or sometimes used clam shells.

People sipped delicately from the tips of their spoons, never opening their mouths wide enough to show their teeth.

After the cooked food course, people used a wooden finger bowl and a cedar bark napkin. Then, if this were a gala meal, there might be a dessert of dried berries, again with oil. After the final hand washing, the drinking bowl was passed around. No matter how salty the food, a well-behaved person always waited for this. If they needed a drink during the meal it would be thought that he or she had eaten too much.

Food Gathering

As previously mentioned, food was plentiful in the Coastal and Puget Sound regions. Along with the vast quantities of seafood provided by the rivers, lakes, ocean and bays, the saltwater beaches also provided a wide variety of shellfish throughout the year which were dug using a carved digging stick. Some of the clams, oysters, mussels, etc., would be smoked, dried and stored to be used or traded later. Vegetable roots or bulbs such as salmonberry sprouts, camas, wapato, tiger lily, and fern were dug at the appropriate time between early spring and into late fall using a different type of digging stick. Also, from early summer to late fall, nature provided many different types of berries such as red and blue elderberries, blackberries, salal berries, huckleberries, cranberries, wild strawberries, thimble berries, and blackcaps. These berries were dried and stored in baskets for future use. The huckleberry leaves were also collected and dried for tea. Certain types of nuts and seeds were also gathered in the fall.

Basket Making

The art of basket making was highly developed by aboriginal women throughout Washington State. Different types of baskets were used for cooking, food gathering and storage, and carrying water. A few distinctions in basketry methods will be made from one culture area to the next. Overlay was one of the methods used for making a basket of coarse, strong materials, but covering the outside with fine, colored grass in bright patterns.

Twined weaves in basketry with overlay

Figure A above shows the method. Instead of the usual two weft (horizontal threads) strands, the workers used four; two strong ones and two decorative ones. The decorative strand was always laid along the outside of the actual weaving strand and kept there as the strand twisted so that it always faced out. The result was a basket whose outside was all in glistening color (detail shown in Figure B) while the inside showed only the plain spruce or cedar root.

This was a method popular in northern California where the twined baskets were beautifully fine. The same method extended to the Oregon coast, so often like California. A few were made on Puget Sound and Figure B comes from the Skokomish. It is a large, flexible basket made of cattail with an overlay of squaw grass in yellow and black.

A woman who needed to make baskets, and every woman did, began planning for it many months in advance. Basketry was primarily winter work, to be done when she could sit in the house for weeks at a time with her materials around her. These materials had to be gathered in the summer when each twig, root and grass to be used was at its best. Roots and twigs had to be soaked, peeled and split, grass cured and sometimes dyed. One Indian woman said, When I begin to weave a basket, my work is already half done.

Basket makerThe big trees were the mainstay for basketry, as they were for the rest of the household equipment. The roots and limbs of the young cedars were peeled and split into strands as strong as wire; Indian women on the coast used the tough, slim roots of the spruce tree. For coarser work, they split the cedar bark into flat strips like tape, or dried the cattails and rushes. These formed the body of the basket. If it were close woven and allowed a field for decoration, a woman generally decorated it even though it was to be used only for cooking or storage. She might use rows of different kind of weaving but more often she added color. Experts have said the colored baskets of this region were the most handsome in America.

Colored grasses, which were the Indian woman's substitute for embroidery silks, were among her most valued possessions. She had to make long trips to the mountains for the shiny bear grass which she might use in its natural cream color, or she might dye it yellow with the root of Oregon grape or black with swamp mud. She flattened out the black stems of maidenhair fern. She peeled the bark of the wild cherry and rubbed it to a glossy dark red. On the beaches she found bone-white shore grass or black sea growths. Basketry was made by three methods Twining, plaiting and coiling. Basket makers loved to vary their work with fancy edges and many varieties of stitch, and one favorite method was the scalloped edge. A favorite decoration was false embroidery with the design showing only on the outside of the basket and the pattern slightly raised as in needlework. Sometimes a woman would weave in one or more bright strips of grass to make her basket different.


Mat making was a part of basketry and every woman had at least as many mats as baskets. She made them of cedar bark strips or tall, hollow cattails which grew thick along quiet streams and lakes. The women gathered them from canoes in July and August and dried them in the sun. In winter, they strung these stalks side by side using string made of nettle fiber or from cattail using a special needle for mat making. No woman could have too many cattail mats, and they were made in basically three sizes. The largest mats (about five feet by twenty feet) were used along the walls as insulation and as room dividers. Medium-sized mats were used as mattresses, table coverings, rain capes and umbrellas, and folded for pillows. The smaller mats (about three to four feet long) were used as cushions for sitting in the house and the canoe. Cattails were a highly prized trade item with northern tribes as they felt these mats were superior to the cedar bark kind.

String and PackstrapsWomen using basket to gather driftwood

A woman had to make not only her household containers but even her string which she needed a lot of to tie her bundles and make her mats, while hundreds of feet of it went into fish nets. The best string was made of nettle fiber. The stinging nettles with their four-sided stems grew thick in damp places; and every fall, women collected huge bundles of them. The stems were split into strips with the thumbnail and hung up five or six days to dry. Then they were broken and the long, out side fibers pulled away from the pith (the soft, spongelike center). To get them really clean and well separated, they were laid on a mat and beaten then combed over the edge of a mussel shell or the rib bone of a bear.

When she was ready to make string, she soaked the fibers to make them flexible. In her left hand she took two slender bunches of a few fibers each, holding them separate. With the palm of her right hand, she rolled the fibers slowly along her leg so each bundle was twisted. Then she pulled the hand quickly upward and the two bunches twisted together. This made a two-ply string. She also made a heavy cord to be used in carrying backloads. These packstraps, which were 15 to 20 feet long, were made by braiding except for a length of two feet or more in the center where the strap crossed the forehead or chest. Here the Indian woman made a checker board or twill pattern. Sometimes these front pieces were braided or twined in colored wool. A handsome carrying strap meant as much to the Indians as modern women think of their hats today.


Many winter days were spent making nets. All the fine ones were of nettle strings and a woman kept little pieces of wood cut to different lengths to measure the size mesh she would make. A fine string net was almost invisible in the water but it often broke and the net maker had to keep mending it all summer.


Puget Sound women made their own yarn for weaving and had looms which were made of wood. They used mountain goat wool which was an ideal source of wool because it was fine, straight and very soft. The goats lived in mountains almost impossible to climb, and hunters say they are harder to approach than any other big game animal.

There were goats in the Rocky Mountains, where few Indians ever climbed, and there were some in the Cascades. Salish Indians along the Fraser River sometimes hunted mountain goats and traded the hides to the Coastal Indians. More often, though, they searched over the hillsides in spring and summer when the goats were shedding. Then, almost every bush might bear a tuft of fur, rubbed off as the animal passed.

Dog Wool

Paul Kane picture of S'Klallam woman weaving a blanket.  1847

Wool dogs were a special breed owned by the women, and they were kept separate from the house and hunting dogs. There are none of these dogs to be seen now, and Indians do not even remember how they looked because they became extinct about the time the gold rush swamped the country in 1858. Early explorers say these dogs were small and white, sometimes a brownish black. They resembled the Pomeranian or similar breeds of oriental origin. When their fleece was sheared off with a mussel shell knife, it was so thick you could lift it up by one corner like a mat. The shearing was repeated two or three times a summer and even then is was hard to get enough wool for blankets. Dog wool was mixed with goat wool, goose down and with the fluff of the fireweed plant. These materials, in any proportion obtainable, were then laid on a mat and sprinkled with a fine white clay. This clay was a prized possession to be found in only a few places and women kept balls of it for which they traded. The weaver beat the clay and fibers together with a flat, smooth piece of wood that had a handle like a sword. The clay helped take the grease from the wool and to whiten it because dog wool was not as white as mountain goat wool. Next the woman would comb the fibers out with her fingers and roll them on her leg as she did the nettle bark. After the wool was spun on her spindle, the resulting thread was a loose, soft twist, as thick as a finger. A blanket made entirely of this thread was very warm and heavy.


The Salish blanket was ten or twelve feet long if it was to be used for bedding. A five or six foot piece made a mantle. Usually it was white but there might be some wool from a brownish black dog or bear wool worked into a border or into a few wide strips. Occasionally these crossed each other in a large plaid.

There was not much color until white people brought yarn for trade. Klallam and Cowlitz women made a few really beautiful blankets; however, there was no one to encourage them to make these blankets for sale as the Indians in the Southwest were encouraged. They found they could get Hudson Bay blankets with far less trouble, and so they gave up the art some 75 years ago. Had that not happened, Salish blankets might have been as famous today as those of the Navaho.




Photos from Daybreak Star United Indians of All Tribes Foundation article - 1993.  Do not reproduce without permission.


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