Sunday, August 22, 2010
This is a tale of two rivers that flow like twins from opposite sides of the Olympic Mountains. The head -waters of the Elwha and the Queets rivers were known as “Terra Incognita” until the late 1800’s. There could be many reasons for this. There was no gold. The Spanish figured this out when they abandoned the Olympic Peninsula in 1800. Subsequent generations of prospectors found a few gold flakes and moved on. The rugged interior of the Olympics remained a mystery.
The local Native Americans routinely misled early explorers as a form of amusement. Back then, telling lurid tales of cannibal tribes was a good way to bad-mouth the neighbors.
The Press Expedition of 1890 reported some Indians that they found camping on the Elwha River near the present Olympic National Park boundary were “utterly ignorant of the country”. The Indians were not however, like the Press boys attempting to drag a party barge up the Elwha and across the Olympic Mountains in the middle of winter. No, the Indians had a snug camp in the snow with a “quantity of fresh elk meat hung around on the trees.”
Then as now you don’t set up a camp like that by being ignorant.
It is more likely that by 1890 the Indians had learned what happened to the buffalo and were not anxious to tell the white man about any more hunting country.
The real exploration of the Terra Incognita didn’t happen until 1885 when the US Army sent Lt. O’Neil and his mule trains to climb the Olympics and bring back a map.
A member of O’Neil’s expedition, Private Fisher became lost after climbing Mount Olympus on September 20th 1890 and wandered down the Queets River.
Fisher reported that sleeping along the Queets was like “a camp in Barnum’s Menagerie as far as sleep was concerned.” Between the thrashing of the salmon in the river and the breaking of brush by the large animals hunting the salmon he had a hard time sleeping.
On Sept 26th, Fisher was hailed by an Indian that had the same name, and offered a canoe ride down-river.
Fiaher describes the Native American method of taking salmon in a weir and hitting the fish at 20 or 30 feet with a forked spear. His host had speared six large salmon and quit fishing. Fisher describes his “staunch friend” watching the many splashing salmon with “Pride, as a farmer would his cattle.”
A recent float down the Queets River revealed a far different world than the one described by Pvt. Fisher. There are no homesteads or fish drying racks. There are no V-shaped ripples in water four feet deep made by giant king salmon swimming upriver in uncounted hordes.
Today, the Queets is almost as dead as the Elwha, a river that was dammed without fish passage in 1913.
Current plans call for removing the Elwha dams allowing 400,000 salmon and steelhead to spawn in the miles of pristine habitat above the dams.
It makes you wonder. The Queets was never dammed. It is a pristine habitat protected within a National Park that allows only catch and release sport fishing for native species of salmon, trout and steelhead .
What happened to the Queets salmon that made them as rare as the Elwha’s? Maybe it’s something in the water that’s killing the fish like, nylon. The presence of nylon in the marine environment has been known to cause a rapid decline in fish stocks worldwide. Fish can become entangled in nylon and die without regard their endangered status. Nylon pollution is killing our fish. I really think it’s time someone studied the problem