The Klallam people are traditionally known as "the
strong people." In the 1930s tribal elder Sam Ulmer related the story
that explains how this name came to be used. It is retold by Beatrice
One day there was a big gathering at the Elwha. The people
ate salmon, clams, wild berries, and lots of good things from nature.
At the time a longhouse was being built and they decided to see who
could get the big log to the roof. "Who can lift this big log?"
the speaker asked. All of the other tribes tried to lift it, with no
success. Then it was time for the mighty Klallams. Knowing that logs
float, they rolled the log into the water. Then their strongest men
walked out into the water and they let the log float onto their shoulders.
When they walked out of the water they were carrying the log on their
shoulders. Upon reaching the longhouse, everyone shouted at the same
time, "Shashume, Shashume, Shashume" and on the third Shashume
they all lifted the log to the top. The other tribes thought that the
mighty Klallams must be very strong to put the log up so high and also
so smart to use the water to first get the log onto their shoulders.
They all shouted, "Klallam, Klallam!" which means "Strong
People!" That was how our tribe recieved its name so long ago.
The Elwha River Is home to the Thunderbird, an
important symbol of strength to the Klallam people. Thunderbird lived
in a cave and chased the salmon upriver by sending thunder and lightning
toward the mouth of the Elwha. When the lightning hit the water it turned
into a two-headed serpent. Then the Klallam prepared to fish, because
they knew a good run of fish was coming. Thunderbird helped the people
in this way.
Another important symbol of Klallam is Killer Whale. As
told by Adeline Smith, a Klallam named Pysht Jack had a widowed relative
with several children, and he always helped her. During this time, Victoria
was the city where the Indians went to trade. Pysht Jack's relative
caught many fish, and they would travel to Victoria to trade her salmon.
On one trip the weather turned very stormy as they were crossing the
strait, and they both thought they were going to drown. The woman started
praying and chanting for the Killer Whale to help them. There were only
certain people who could call in the Killer Whale, and she was one who
had that power. It was not long before several Killer Whales appeared.
The Killer Whales surrounded the canoe and safely escorted them across
the strait to the mount of the Elwha River. The woman thanked the Killer
Whales and they swam away, and that is why the Klallam people say the
Killer Whale is their protector. Both the Thunderbird and Killer Whale
are depicted in the tribe's logo.
It has been a common misperception that the Klallam
did not travel into the mountains. Klallam families not only traveled
up and over the Olympic Mountains to gather medicinal plants, berries,
baer frass, and cattails and to hunt for bear, deer, and elk; they also
lived upriver in villages on a seasonal basis and in some places year-round.
The Elwha was a natural byway for subsistance activities, but also for
social gatherings. One Klallam mother hiked up the Elwha and over to Taholah
at the mouth of the Quinault River every summer with her five children
to visit relatives there. The Klallam consider the Olympic Mountains sacred
and revere the mountain's glory.
Klallam ties to the mountains date back to the Great Flood many generations
ago, as Joe Sampson describes:
There was a man who told his people to make some canoes
and to make them large and strong so they could endure storms, there
was a flood coming. The people said the mountains were high and they
could just go up the mountains when the flood came. He warned them again.
Soon it began to rain and rained for many days. And the rivers became
salt. The people said they would go up the mountains .. They had no
way of getting to the mouintains for the valleys were full of water
and the rivers overflowed their banks.
The people that walked all died. Those that had canoes and water and
food lived. Some who were in a canoe tied themselves to a treetop when
their canoe hit the trees and split. Some tied themsleves to mountains
and the highest ones were saved.