Yelm Jim’s Fish Weir at Puyallup

Yelm Jim's fish weir on the Puyallup River ca. 1885. Click for high resolution.  Source:  http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/DAA73FC7A57E989D65B6DBEA419FC89E

Yelm Jim’s fish weir on the Puyallup River ca. 1885. Click for high resolution. Source: http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/DAA73FC7A57E989D65B6DBEA419FC89E

So for one reason or another I’ve been thinking about fish weirs lately.  A picture can be worth a thousand thoughts though, so I was happy to see these two shots of a massive weir photographed ca. 1885 on the Puyallup Indian Reservation (map) near Tacoma, southern Puget Sound, Washington.  I’m sure these are common knowledge images but for some reason I hadn’t come across them before.  If you’re new to weirs I posted something on them before, referencing the monumental reconstruction of one on the Koeye River.  Essentially they are a method for controlling the upstream migration of salmon, allowing for stock assessment and selective harvesting.

Yelm Jim's fish weir on the Puyallup River ca. 1885. Click for high resolution.  Source:  http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/7DE71DBBEDCF71DCADF61AEFB20FFBA6

Yelm Jim’s fish weir on the Puyallup River ca. 1885. Click for high resolution. Source: http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Record/View/7DE71DBBEDCF71DCADF61AEFB20FFBA6

The size of this weir is really impressive.  It dwarfs the one recorded from the Cowichan, and is on a scale with the well-known one across the Babine River. I wonder if such large weirs were common before the advent of metal tools.  Archaeological ones I’ve seen – quite a few actually – seldom have wooden components larger than about 10 cm in diameter.  Now, if this one is like the Koeye reconstruction, the entire thing pretty much just sits on the river bed held in place by gravity, with minimal stakes pounded in – also unlike the ones which we know of archaeologically, presumably because of the inherently better preservation when stakes are pounded into substrate.  Further, these large ones could probably be dismantled for much of the year and stored on land.

The other thing that is striking to me is that the weir, in an admittedly casual way, is attributed to an individual – Yelm Jim.  Yelm is a small town in Washington State near Olympia, presumably Jim had a connection to it.  Yelm Jim, Wa-he-lut, however, was from the Nisqually Tribe, and according to this, had a close encounter with the gallows at one time.  Anyway, does attribution of the weir to an individual suggest private ownership of the weir structure?  At Cowichan, ownership of weirs is said to belong to families. Perhaps this weir is attributed to Yelm Jim as a proxy for his family, so to speak. Incidentally, the picture below from a different archival set, yet by the same photographer or mounded in the same manner (Mitchell…. Puyallup), shows a much more modestly sized and constructed weir so I’m not sure what the discrepancy is there.

Speaking of the Koeye and Cowichan weirs, I was interested to see there is a USASK MA thesis out there (downloadable) by Chelsea Dale which includes material on traditional harvesting and the revitilization of weirs on the Cowichan.  Maybe if I read the thesis I could answer my own questions, but in the meantime I’m sure the three Washingtonians who read this blog will know what’s up with this weir!

" House belonging to survivor of the Puget Sound Indian War, Yelm Jim [Wa-he-lut or Wahoolit], seen from across the water. Two men, three women pose in front of fenced house; in foreground is a large fish trap ." Source: http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/ref/collection/loc/id/2092

” House belonging to survivor of the Puget Sound Indian War, Yelm Jim [Wa-he-lut or Wahoolit], seen from across the water. Two men, three women pose in front of fenced house; in foreground is a large fish trap .” Source: http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/ref/collection/loc/id/2092

18 responses to “Yelm Jim’s Fish Weir at Puyallup

  1. Many thanks for this great and most useful picture.

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  2. It seems apparent from the latter caption that Yelm Jim at some point lived on the Puyallup Rez, despite being a Nisqually, perhaps living with kin from that neighboring tribe. The smaller weir also appears to be on a smaller stream, likely a tributary. Photos of the larger weir were obviously taken during low flow times, probably late summer/early fall during the salmon runs. The Puyallup flows from glaciers on the northwest side of Mount Rainier and can really get rolling. Cool photos!

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  3. I think Mr. Yelm Jim was a skilled engineer. Would love to have seen the weir under construction from start to finish…or should I say…from start to “fish”!?

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  4. Here’s another ingenious trap on the same river system, a fascinating photo of a steelhead trap on the tributary White River, 1928. http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/kccollects/id/353/rec/33

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  5. Qmackie…thanks for the video…a picture is indeed worth a thousand words…video even better!

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  6. Dale – yes, all that wading! Interesting that the Koeye weir and Yelm Jim’s are both largely built out of alder, at least for the main structural pieces.

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  7. Quentin: This is the other WA Dale. Hope ll going well for you. Surprised that Fish(el) did not mention our intertidal fish traps we tested and mapped at Qwu?gwes. These are large post, 10×10 cm split cedar set across a small inlet where Chum run. This gives you a contrast between intertidal and river weirs. Our report also has a section summarizing fish traps all along the coast. It is available on our State’s WISSARD system and this section is well illustrated on pages 559-588. Let me know if you need help getting to it.

    Also how did your submarine expedition do on Haida Gwaii?! I could just see you and Daryl sitting side by side in a 2 man sub exploring for ancient fish trap features! Do give us some results. Thanks, Dale C

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    • It was a rare moment of lucidity that caused me to comment in the first place…I didn’t want to push my luck. Seriously though, the wide range of ingenious traps once used on fresh water streams and intertidal estuaries make for fascinating study. It also testifies to the richness of fish stocks once along our coast…oh, to see those days again!

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  8. Hi Quentin,
    Fantastic indigenous fish farms using actual healthy rivers!
    Many folks (relatives and friends, kid teachers) have been commenting to me about the apparent fish trap feature your team found on Haida Gwaii recently beneath Hecate strait. A flurry of interest. Way to go! Details?
    Jim

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    • Hi Jim, I could post something I guess, but the bottom line is nothing conclusive. Some interesting spots on the sea-floor, and not just weirs, but, you know, house pits and whatnot. Definitely enough to get us back up there probably with different tools – ROV with lights and camera and a pooperscooper to bring stuff to the surface. Very cool technology. Look at this picture of a braided stream now drowned at 54 metres below sea level. All natural of course, but you can imagine a weir on those 🙂

      That’s very close to where Daryl pulled up a stone tool in 1998. We actually saw the divot in the sea floor where the stone tool came from. Resolution is cantaloupe-scale. It’s pretty cool.

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  9. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #4 | Doug's Archaeology

  10. Hey there, that’s amazing stuff, so cool you can see where the previously found artifact came from and… potential housepits. Must have been a fast transgression huh? I am on HG now, will be looking for fish traps, amongst other things, on the big island. Apparently the Hiellen fish trap has emerged…

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  11. Hi Jim,
    What’s happening on the Hiellen? That’s the second Hiellen weir tidbit I’ve heard today.
    Yeah, the underwater stuff is cool, but I feel kind of torn between my cautious inbred pessimism and the need to be positive and get back out there. Hoping and counting on there being a good field season next year and a few people with expertise have contacted me with helpful suggestions or offers to collaborate. So it’ll be a productive winter nonetheless I think.

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  12. Here’s a striking picture of Yelm Jim in later life, posed with a memento mori, no less.
    http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/ref/collection/loc/id/1920

    Caption: “Wahoolit”, or “Yelm Jim” a Nisqually Indian. He fought with Leschi in 1855-56. He killed Sluggia, Leschi’s betrayer [and nephew]. Sentenced to be hung, he was pardoned on the day set for execution

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  13. There is obviously more to this story of the Leschi/Sluggia episode(s); I would like to know what the skull is all about!?

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  14. interesting side-note: a reproduction of Yelm Jim’s house and fish trap photo is prominently displayed on the Port Townsend-Coupeville WSDOT ferry

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