Origins of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe

Though many different languages were spoken on the Bay, Shoalwater Bay people, both Chehalis and Chinook, believed themselves to have the same origin as a people.

It should also be said that within the memory of local Native people during the early to mid 1800s (coinciding with recorded history of the area) most peoples on the Bay during this time, including those with strong Chinook ancestry, were beginning to heavily adopt the Th-la-walt-mish (Lower Chehalis) language, and most routinely spoke Chinook Jargon as well. 

The following version of the origin story of Chinook and Chehalis speaking Native people of the Bay was collected by Ella E. Clark (Clark, 135-136).


The Origin of The Chinook and Chehalis People.

Long, long ago, when Old Man South Wind was traveling north, he met an old woman who was a giant. “Will you give me some food?” asked South wind. “I am very hungry.”

“I have no food,” answered the giantess, “but here is a net. You can catch some fish for yourself if you wish.”

So Old Man South Wind dragged the net down to the ocean and with it caught a little whale. Taking out his knife, he was about to cut the whale and take out the blubber. But the old giantess cried out, “Do not cut it with a knife, and do not cut it crossways. Take a sharp knife and split it down the back.”

But South Wind did not take to heart what the old woman was saying. He cut the fish crossways and began to take off some blubber. He was startled to see the fish change into a huge bird. It was so big that when it flew into the air, it hid the sun, and the noise of its wings shook the earth. It was Thunderbird.

Thunderbird flew to the north and lit on the top of Saddleback Mountain, near the mouth of the Columbia River. There it laid a nest full of eggs. The old giantess followed the bird until she found its nest. She broke one egg, but it was not good. So she threw it down the mountainside. Before the egg reached the valley, it became an Indian.

The old giantess broke some other eggs and then threw them down the mountainside. They too became Indians. Each of the Thunderbird’s eggs became an Indian.

That is how the Chinook were created. And that is why Indians never cut the first salmon across the back. They know that if they should cut the fish the wrong way, the salmon would cease to run. Always, even to this day, they slit the first salmon down the back, lengthwise.


by V. Keven Shipman