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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are over 200, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you. The photo in this profile features a handcrafted windvane of the 1902 WA-built lumber schooner CAMANO. The metal vane was designed, fabricated, and given to the maritime community by John M. Campbell. The schooner was linked to the life of one of the early, well-known, residents, Captain Lyle E. Fowler, born in 1901 on Shaw Island. Following a long passage on the CAMANO, he spent his entire career working on the inland waters of the PNW. The CAMANO windvane is installed on the roof of the Shaw Island community building, near Blind Bay, where she is easily viewed by passersby.

23 April, 2014


The bottom image includes Chinook jargon..
Vintage postcards from the archives
of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
"Along the Pacific Coast from the California border to Alaska, Indian tribes traded with each other. Since each tribe, and sometimes each family within a tribe, had its own language, trade would have have been difficult without a common tongue. The one that developed was the Chinook jargon.
      The Chinooks lived around the lower Columbia River, and being centrally located, it was an area in which peoples from both north and south could meet and exchange their special products.
      The Chinook jargon was also picked up by most settlers who came to the area, and was the means of communication between the two races in many instances. It was actually a trade jargon, not the genuine Chinook language, and contained a mixture of French, English, and parts of the languages of several tribes. It continued to be used as slang quite commonly in the Northwest as late as WW II, even in the offices of city businessmen.
      Tillikum was possibly one of the most used words, and still shows up today. It means friend, actually a very good friend.
      A trade arrangement might be concluded with kloshe, which means good or fine.
      Nika Kumtux said "I understand." To become chako Boston meant to become civilized.
      Skookum chuck was a rapid stream or a coast eddy. Important for anyone on the water was chuck chako, the tide is rising.
      Illahee was the land or country in which one lived and which provided comfort. 
      Tyee referred to a chief. A man's klootchman was his wife.
     Melas, derived from molasses, was syrup. Moos-moos were cattle. To muck-a-muck was to eat beef.
     By now the language has almost completely disappeared, although 100 years ago there were an estimated 100,000 persons––Indians, white, and mixed bloods––who could speak it fluently. Merchants, loggers, traders, seamen, and housewives all needed to use it to communicate."
Above text courtesy of Old Stuff, Vol. 37, No. l, 2014. Published b y VBM Printers, Inc. McMinnville, Or. 

"...It has generally been supposed that the Chinook jargon was introduced by the traders of the Hudson's Bay Co, for the purpose of facilitating intercourse among the interior tribes; but although that company made use of the language, and it has grown since the advent from a few common words into a recognized medium of correspondence between the whites and the natives, yet the Hudson's Bay Co did not introduce it. It came into use in the following manner: the former head-quarters for the fur traders on the northwest coast was at Nootka, on the north-western coast of Vancouver's Island, [BC.] There they established their winter quarters and had a general rendezvous, and from the time Meares built the schooner NORTHWEST AMERICA, in Nootka Sound, which was in 1788, to the settlement of Astoria, in 1812, but little time elapsed when there were no white persons ashore among the Nootkans. In 1802, the ship BOSTON was taken by the Indians at Nootka sound, and all hands killed with the exception of two men named Jewitt and Thompson, and the ship burned.  On Jewitt's return to the States, be published a narrative, and in it gave a vocabulary of the words of the Nootkan language in common use. From his vocabulary many words can be shown with similarity between the Nootkan and Jargon languages [and Swan lists several.]
      The various tribes on the coast have been accustomed for many years to trade with each other, consequently, individuals of each band could talk enough of the language of the other for the purposes of trade. Among these trading chiefs was Comcomoly, the one-eyed chief of the Chenooks, mentioned by Ross, Cox, and Irving, in his history of Astoria. Comcomoly made frequent voyages during the summer months to Cape Flattery, at which place he was accustomed to meet the great chief of the Nootka and other northern tribes, and as familiar not only with the Nootka language, but with the language of the other coast Indians.
      When Astor arrived in the Columbia in 1812, they found the Chenooks already in possession of a jargon which was readily learned by the whites.
      The Hudson's Bay Co next made their appearance on the coast and succeeded Astor's company. The Canadian voyageurs and half-breeds introduced from Canada by the HBC, took wives among the tribes of the Columbia, and as an Indian appears to learn French much more readily than English, it was not long before Canadian French was introduced into the Jargon. The language has also received additions by words from the Chehalis and some of the tribes on Puget Sound.
      A residence of several months with the Makah Indians at Cape Flattery, during 1859, and recently, for the past five months, during which time I have made the study of the early history of the coast tribes and their languages a speciality, has enabled me to trace out the origin of many of the words in the Jargon that have been derived from the Nootkan language..."
Almost Out of the World, James G. Swan. Washington State Historical Society. 1971.
James G. Swan (1818-1900) was known for collecting artifacts (namely for the Smithsonian) and for writing the first ethnography of the Makah group, among whom he lived. He suffered many personal failures but posthumously attracted positive attention from historians such as Lucile McDonald.

20 April, 2014

Geography Lesson

1923 multi-page brochure
to promote SJ County.

 Photo images (inside) by
James A. McCormick.
Latest ephemera archived 

April 2014, S. P. H. S. ©

Day No. 4, before casting off from Waldron Island, WA.
100 Days in the San Juans 
by June Burn
Text published by the Seattle Times, 1946.

"The actual number of islands in the San Juan Archipelago varies with the person who does the counting. McLellan gives 786 at the lowest tides, 457 at high tide, with 175 of them large enough to have names.*
These 175 islands make up 206 square miles of land. Orcas is the largest island with 60 sq miles of 36,432 acres, San Juan next with 35,448 acres, then Lopez, Cypress, Lummi, Guemes, Shaw, Blakely, Waldron, and on down to Pointer Island with a quarter acre that sticks up above high tide and Shag Rock with only a few sq ft. So far, the smallest island to which we have been invited is Towhead, 2.15 acres in size.

      There are many curious things about the islands, one of the most curious that two of them are called James. One is called Bare and another Barren. One is called Flower and another Posey.
      Now and then you will be digging a well and will strike a geyser that spurts out and never stops spurting. Once I heard an eminent engineer say that there is an artesian flow of fresh water boiling up in the salt water channel between Guemes and Fidalgo Islands. When he was asked to put in the Anacortes water system, this artesian flow was suggested as a possible supply.
      He said that on calm days fishermen and boatmen who know of it can dip their buckets down at the right place in the channel and bring up fresh water.
      Of animals we have deer on Orcas, muskrat on Stuart, a pest of rabbits on San Juan, and a very menace of huge rats on Waldron. One hears of an occasional mink and there are birds here that occur nowhere else. This summer we will probably learn of hundreds of others.

The water around the islands make up in animal life what the land lacks, however. I don't mean water fowl––there will be a column on them later on ––but life within the sea. These are said to be the richest waters in the world, plants and animals in almost limitless variety from microscopic forms to killer whales that come spouting and sighing every summer.
      When we visit McConnell Island where Prof. Tommy Thompson lives in the summertime, we'll learn why Puget Sound is so rich in life. He is director of the famed oceanographic laboratories at the University and at Friday Harbor. All his faculty and students have made exciting studies of our waters.
      The San Juans are bottled up here in a rather tight place. The channels between are sometimes very deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow. The great wide, deep Strait of Juan de Fuca can let in a mighty ocean of water to sweep in on the flood and rush out again on the terrific ebb tides. These channels have to receive all that water somehow, push it through, suck it through, whirl it through. There are boiling, leaping tide rips where two big channel tides come together. There are whirlpools in narrow passages when more water than can possibly get through comes roaring along.

      Sometimes the tidal rivers go flashing past at eight knots an hour. When that happens, you might just as well turn around and go with it, if you are rowing––which is why we can't make definite dates for this summer. We have an 18-ft metal boat with only a small sail.
      (And if there is no wind, we'll be rowing and not against those tides. If we meant to go north and the tide starts south before we get there, why we'll go south forsooth. As one experiment we plan to drift with the tides for a day or so to see where and how far we'll go.)
      The islands are in a dry belt. We have less rainfall than occurs on the mainland. We are warmer in winter, cooler in summer. But the temperature of the water around the islands changes so little the year round it takes a thermometer to measure it. It's blizzardly all the time!
      On hot days you can get might cold in the shade or you can burn up in the open sun. Semi-shade is man's natural habitat in the summertime.
      The prevailing wind is from the southeast and in winter it can blow down big trees without half trying. In summer, though, there isn't much wind as rain––an ideal holiday climate.
      See you tomorrow, June."
* San Juan County, the smallest of 39 Counties in Washington State, now claims 176 named islands and reefs. Official statistics can be viewed here

15 April, 2014


Shellback papers for "Pappy" Beachum
Captain Walter Clarence Beachum

grew up on Whidbey Is. where he learned
his trade from Captain Bartlett Lovejoy,
of the Black Ball LIne.
Pappy was master of ferry IROQUOIS on the
Seattle-Victoria route before becoming
 Chief Pilot for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
 for 23 years––retiring 1968.

From the archives of the S. P. H. S.©

"The sailor's commendatory term for the landsman's old salt. Some authorities say that it comes from his back being bent like a shell; but it seems more probable that the implication is that the shellback is growing barnacles from having been at sea so long.
      The term is fairly well known to landspeople. The degree of "able shellback," signed by Rex Neptune, is currently [1945] being conferred upon men crossing the Line for the first time aboard troopships."
Sea Language Comes Ashore, Joanna Carver Colcord. Cornell Maritime Press, N.Y. 1945.

12 April, 2014

Steamboat MOHAI

Steamer MOHAI, 1961.
L-R, Murrey Amon, Mark Freeman, "Capt." Jim Vallentyne,

A touch of the past as they chugged through the 
Montlake Cut in the rebuilt steamboat MOHAI

also known as AFRICAN QUEEN.
Photo by Johnny Closs for The Seattle Times.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.
"This little boat had been one of two sister work boats carried by the Bureau of Indian Affairs supply ship NORTH STAR to carry goods ashore in Alaska at places without docks. When they came up for bid, Dad (Doc Freeman) bought one and Lloyd Frank bought the other. Lloyd built her into a small tug and installed a 165-HP gas engine. Today she is known as TWOBITTS and I think Elwood Avery still owns her as a pleasure boat. 
      They were both open boats; ours had a 115-HP Chrysler Crown and we used her just the way she came for shifting all the big boats Dad had at Northlake Boat Sales. 
      Our friend and employee, Jim Vallentyne ran her for me as an assisst boat. Jim and Dad got to talking about making her into a steam boat. Frank Prothero donated a Model K Navy engine c. 1900 and Jim rebuilt it. They found a real Scotch Marine Boiler that would burn coal or wood. They installed the engine and boiler and fitted a rebuilt 24-inch diameter propeller and had the wheel repitched to 40" and it was just the right combination. We still used her as a tug but you had to build up steam before you could shift––we all had a lot of fun with her. We even took her to opening day in 1961 disguised as the AFRICAN QUEEN with empty cases of Gilbey's gin stacked on the aft deck just like Humphrey Bogart would have done.
      Dad died in December of 1963; mother and I gave the steamboat to Jim Vallentyne and his wife Loretta. Jim and our old engineer, Edmund Anderson, built a house on her and renamed her the DAVID T. DENNY. 
      Jim drowned on the Columbia River Bar tying to deliver a 50-ft Chris Craft [NUNY II] from San Diego to Seattle when a huge Pacific storm caught him [in October 1967.]
      The steamboat was sold and ended up in our moorage at Fremont Boat; I understand it was shipped to Europe to do the canals and now is somewhere in the Eastern US."
Text written by Mark Freeman of Freemont Tugboat Co.

07 April, 2014

Bones and Stones on San Juan Island, WA.

Bone implements and stone tools 
Excavated at Cattle Pass, San Juan Island,
 by the U of WA researchers, 1946.
 Arden R. King (L) & Richard Dougherty,
the latter a University senior signed on to assist
King the following summer.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.

Segments of the report are far outdated for the knowledge scientists have gained since 1946; this is an abridged portion, published by historian Lucile McDonald when she interviewed Arden King.

In the summer of 1946, the University of Washington archaeology department sent an expedition to excavate an ancient native campsite near Cattle Point, San Juan Island, WA. Arden R. King of the anthropology department faculty, who supervised the work of 18 student diggers, told of how it may be possible to offer more information about the earliest island Indians when the 500 or more artifacts gathered in the field are studied.
      "We found two cultures, with a clear cut division between the earlier and later groups," he explained. They may represent either different peoples of the same people after they had become adapted to life on the shore. Those of the first culture appear to have eaten mainly deer and elk––yes, in historical times there are reports of elk swimming to the island. People of the later period ate shellfish.
Bone and stone tools found at Cattle Point, SJ Is. site, 1946.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.
Click to enlarge.
King learned that children of white settlers in the neighborhood used to find skeletons at Cattle Point, set them on fence posts as targets for rocks, and thus demolish a large number which would have materially helped the archaeologists.
      The Cattle Point site was also a backstop for military target practice, soldiers in the pioneer period coming down to the beach from American Camp and shooting toward the slope. We found a hand-molded bullet with a rim-fire type shell in our diggings, King added.
      The students dug a series of trenches and kept a record of depths at which their finds were made, describing positions and the accompanying material King said.