Indian Houses of the Northwest Described
the fishing season in the Columbia River, where fish are more abundant than in any other river on the earth, all the members of the tribe encamp together, and make a common stock of the fish obtained. They are divided each day according to the number of women, giving to each an equal share. At the Kootenay Falls, for example, they are taken by spearing, and in huge baskets submerged in the water below the falls. The salmon, during the spring run, weigh from six to forty pounds, and are taken in the greatest abundance, three thousand a day not being an unusual number. Father De Smet, the late Oregon missionary, informed the writer, in 1862, that he once spent several days with the Kootenays at these falls, and that the share which fell to him, as one of the party, loaded, when dried, thirty pack mules. The fish are split open, scarified, and dried on scaffolds, after which they are packed in baskets and then removed to their villages. This custom makes a general distribution of the capture, and leaves each household in possession of its share.
[Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote relocated to chapter end.]
Their communism in living is involved in the size of the household, which ranged from ten to forty persons. "The houses of the Sokulks are made of large mats of rushes, and are generally of a square or oblong form, varying in length from fifteen to sixty feet; the top is covered with mats, leaving a space of twelve or fifteen inches, the whole length of the house, for the purpose of admitting the light and suffering the smoke to pass through; the roof is nearly flat … and the house is not divided into apartments, the fire being in the middle of the large room, and immediately under the hole in the roof…. On entering one of these houses he [Captain Clarke] found it crowded with men, women, and children, who immediately provided a mat for him to sit on, and one of the party immediately undertook to prepare something to eat." [Footnote: Lewis and Clarke's Travels, pp. 351-353.]
Again: "He landed before five houses close to each other, but no one appeared, and the doors, which were of mats, were closed. He went towards one of them with a pipe in his hand, and pushing aside the mat entered the lodge, where he found thirty-two persons, chiefly men and women, with a few children, all in the greatest consternation." [Footnote: ib., p. 357.] And again: "This village being part of the same nation with the village we passed above, the language of the two being the same, and their houses being of the same form and materials, and calculated to contain about thirty souls." [Footnote: ib., p. 376.]
In enumerating the people Lewis and Clarke often state the number of inhabitants with the number of houses, thus:
"The Killamucks, who number fifty houses and a thousand souls."
"The Chilts, who … are estimated at seven hundred souls and thirty-eight houses."
"The Clamoitomish, of twelve houses and two hundred and sixty souls."
"The Potoashees, of ten houses and two hundred souls."
"The Pailsk, of ten houses and two hundred souls."
"The Quinults, of sixty houses and one thousand souls."
[Footnote: Lewis and Clarke's Travels, pp. 426-428.]
Speaking generally of the usages and customs of the tribes of the "Columbia plains," they make the following statements: "Their large houses usually contain several families, consisting of the parents, their sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren, among whom the provisions are common, and whose harmony is scarcely ever interrupted by disputes. Although polygamy is permitted by their customs, very few have more than a single wife, and she is brought immediately after the marriage into the husband's family, where she resides until increasing numbers oblige them to seek another house. In this state the old man is not considered the head of the family, since the active duties, as well as the responsibility, fall on some of the younger members. As these families gradually expand into bands, or tribes, or nations, the paternal authority is represented by the chief of each association. This chieftain, however, is not hereditary." [Footnote: ib., p. 443.] Here we find among the Columbian tribes, as elsewhere, communism in living, but restricted to large households composed of several families.
A writer in Harper's Magazine, speaking of the Aleutians, remarks: "When first discovered this people were living in large yurts, or dirt houses, partially underground … having the entrances through a hole in the top or centre, going in and out on a rude ladder. Several of these ancient yurts were very large, as shown by the ruins, being from thirty to eighty yards long and twenty to forty in width…. In these large yurts the primitive Aleuts lived by fifties and hundreds for the double object of protection and warmth." [Footnote: Harper's Magazine, vol. 55, p. 806.]
Whether these tribes at this time were organized in gentes and phratries is not known. At the time of the Wilkes expedition (1838-1842) the gentile organization did not exist among them; neither does it now exist; but it is still found among the tribes of the Northwest Coast, and among the Indian tribes generally. The composition of the household, as here described, is precisely like the household of the Iroquois prior to A.D. 1700.