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.
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!