What was life like 2,000 years ago in what is now the Puget Sound region of Washington State?
All of the west coast tribes were considered rich by the other Indian nations. Of all the coastal Indians, the Tulalip, Swinomish, Lummi and Skagit tribes were considered the most rich. These were the Indian tribes who lived in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.
What made these tribes so wealthy? It wasn't the discovery of oil, although these early people did love to dunk their food in whale oil to give it flavor. It wasn't the discovery of gold or silver, although these early people were talented artists. They would have made gorgeous jewelry from gold and silver (if they had discovered gold or silver!) But, they did not use metal of any kind. They did not have gold statues or iron pots or brass weapons. What made them so rich and famous? Food! An abundance of food and safe, sturdy shelter made them famous.
Hunters and Gatherers: These early people never developed a system of agriculture. They did not need to. They built their villages along the ocean shores, rivers, and streams, where food was plentiful.
Two thousand years ago, the Puget Sound Indians used to tell visiting tribes that sometimes the river was so packed with salmon you could walk across it on the backs of fish without getting your feet wet. These early people were famous for their "tall tales" - but it was true that the waters were filled with with salmon. Clams were thick on the beaches. The woods were full of elk and deer and other animals. Wild blackberries and raspberries and salmonberries and nuts were thick. There were oysters, shrimp, turtles, eggs, and wild vegetables.
You can see why other Indian tribes, who struggling to survive in other parts of the country, would consider the Puget Sound Indians "rich"!
Cedar Trees: Added to the abundance of food was the abundance of cedar trees. They used cedar trees to build plank homes and sturdy canoes. Softened cedar bark was used to make shoes, clothing, blankets, and toweling. Their art was incredible. Using cedar, they carved everything from masks to totem poles to cooking utensils.
Stored Food: These early people were very clever. They created a way to dry food so that it could be stored safely. Once they could store food, they could relax a bit during the winter months. That gave them time to develop a gracious lifestyle.
Each morning, these early people started their day at dawn with a bath in the river. After their morning bath, they went to work. Their first meal would not be until several hours later.
The women did chores on land, near the longhouse. They wove blankets and baskets and mats. They dug for clams. They collected berries. They pounded cedar bark, to soften it, and to ready it to make clothing. They cleaned the family's quarters in the longhouse. They scrubbed what they could and replaced anything soiled that could not be scrubbed. They put the morning meal on to cook and started to prepare food for the evening meal. They were housewives, and good ones.
The men went fishing and hunting. They were wonderful hunters. They used traps and clubs and arrows to catch game. They set out baskets to catch crabs and fish. They stood on the piers they had built and fished with baskets woven from cattails, hung from the end of long cedar poles. They simply scooped up food.