Slide Show

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Looking back to the first Sequim Irrigation Festival

Built in 1862, the McAlmond House in Dungeness was said to be the finest mansion  in Puget Sound at a time when Port Townsend and Seattle were just a collection of shacks.
In 1854 Whiskey Flats (New Dungeness) was named the county seat for the newly created Clallam County.
The name was taken from the local tribe, meaning “The Strong People.” By then the Clallam had their fill of getting their land stolen by squatters just as soon as the homestead law made it legal, while getting cheated for their furs and poisoned with rotgut trade whiskey. 
At the time between 600 and a thousand Clallam lived on the beach at Dungeness. The white settlers in the vicinity might have numbered 35. The Clallam were ready for war.  Clallam Chief Chetzemoka spoke against war saying, “If you wanted to kill off the whites, you should have struck long ago. Now it is too late.” 
Chetzemoka had been to San Francisco with James Swan as a tour guide. He knew any attack on the settlers would trigger an overwhelming counter attack that could exterminate the Clallam.
In 1855 the Clallam signed the Point-No-Point Treaty giving up approximately 750,000 acres for a reservation with the Skokomish on Hood Canal.
Some claim the harsh terms of the treaty were an attempt by Governor Stevens to start an Indian war to stimulate the pioneer economy on the frontier. 
Captain Elijah McAlmond had been the first to ship piling out of Dungeness Bay for the lucrative San Francisco market. McAlmond evicted an Indian village to build a house that stands to this day on a bluff that overlooks the mouth of the Dungeness River. Built in 1862,
the McAlmond House was said to be the finest mansion in the whole Puget Sound at a time when Port Townsend, Seattle and Olympia were just a collection of shacks.  
Meanwhile times were tough at Whiskey Flats. The Territorial Legislature made it illegal to adulterate liquor, a practice that had sustained the fur trade on the west coast for almost 200 years. The  missionary Rev. Myron Eels reported 500 Indians had died in the saloons of Dungeness but no one can say for sure.
In 1855 a schooner was found off Diamond Point with the bodies of 32 deserting British sailors who had all died of smallpox, which along with the other European diseases and the whiskey, devastated Native American communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Native Americans could not homestead their own land. They were not American citizens. The Clallam were forced to buy their own land back at Jamestown.
Meanwhile, the camas gardens whose beauty had caused Captain Vancouver to name the place after his native Dungeness in England, were taken over by homesteaders who turned the hogs loose. Efforts at farming were dismal.
Located in the rain shadow of the Olympics, the  Sequim Prairie was dry enough to grow cactus.  Plagues of grasshoppers ate everything down to the moss on the fence rails. In 1895 some farmers got together and dug a ditch from the Dungeness River to the Sequim Prairie.
On May 1, 1896, the pioneers had a picnic to celebrate. This became the Irrigation Festival, the oldest community celebration in Washington.
Once the Sequim Prairie was watered it became a dairy center that held the world’s record in butterfat production per cow. By 1950 there were 300 dairies in Sequim. Today there are only two.
The camas prairie became farms, which became housing developments, studded with box stores so thick they block my view of Walmart. Sequim has become an Indian word meaning “traffic jam.” 
Now that the irrigation ditches have been run into plastic pipes, we think back to the first Irrigation Festival.
Those were the good old days. They just didn't know it yet.

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