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 Charles:

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.

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