Stepping Back


Lynn Larson

Time of Dog Salmon

October was the Time of Dog Salmon for the native people on Filucy Bay and throughout southern Puget Sound. Dog salmon is such an ignominious name for a fish that catapulted Northwest Coast indigenous groups into becoming the most sophisticated hunter-gatherer population in the world. Dogs were so predictable and suitable for preservation that winter villages arose on river confluences throughout the Northwest, people gathering at fish weirs and traps to catch and dry dog salmon for the winter. Fishermen were instructed to take only as many dog salmon as they could eat and not to laugh at them, or there would be dire consequences. On Filucy Bay, where dogs or chums, as they are also called, and coho/silver salmon run, the silvers beginning in September, probably few native people set traps on the short, small streams.

Instead, most of the native families arrived on Filucy Bay from their mainland winter homes or from their winter home on Minter Bay in June and July. They came for the clams, the butters and native littlenecks, but mostly for the delicious horse clams, the foot of the clams strung on cedar sticks and leaned against racks on rock pavements where they were dried for winter use and for trade with the Yakamas. Dried clams strung on cedar strings were so tasty that the Yakamas traded horses for them. They were a great travel food, the strings of clams draped over the neck, their smoky flavor released from chewing the clam like chewing gum. Children gathered the rocks, smooth and fine-grained so they would not explode when a fire was built on the pavement, while adults dug clams, keeping them in loosely woven baskets in shallow water until they had enough to dry.

Summer on the bay was a heady time for the native people in their temporary mat homes scattered along the shoreline. The rules that governed behavior in the winter longhouses were loosened and though work was to be done there was more time for games, storytelling and gossiping. Upper-class families typically arranged for a son or daughter to marry someone from a village far away, which meant that summer was the time for family groups to reunite, to visit and share news, to arrange marriages for the next generation, to gamble and play games like tug of war, the women against the men, pulling on a cedar rope. Throughout most of the summer laughter reverberated across the bay, singing could be heard from the people arriving in canoes from their winter homes and the chants of one side or another playing slahal echoed around the bay much as the sounds of the boaters in the Longbranch Marina can be heard today. 

A few families may have come back to the bay in October for clams, but the loaded black huckleberries on the bushes in my yard make me think of those last families camping on Filucy Bay at this time of year. Using wooden combs mostly the women and children harvested the tiny saltwater huckleberries, the last of the fresh fruit of the season, while the men went hunting. These berries were precious, remaining fresh on the bushes well into November or first frost, when all other fresh fruit had rotted and fallen. 

Filucy, or Longbranch Bay as it was once called, was the “Ancient Place,” the place that refused to be changed when the Transformer turned animals into people and people into landforms. It is still the Ancient Place to me, and at night I can almost smell those drying clams and hear the people singing in their canoes.

Lynn Larson is an archaeologist and anthropologist. She lives on Filucy Bay.