Neah Bay is shown in 1907. (Ron Wasnock)

Neah Bay is shown in 1907. (Ron Wasnock)

BACK WHEN: The history of Neah Bay is remembered

ONLY ONE OR two readers responded to the March picture from the past.

It is a 1907 view of Neah Bay village and its fishing fleet.

The following information about the Makah Tribe came from an online article titled “Makah Tribe (Neah Bay, Washington): Tribal info. History & More” on

The Makah Tribe has an extensive history of living on the Olympic Peninsula.

They had five permanent villages named Waatch, Sooes, Deah (Neah Bay), Ozette and Bahaada along the shore of the northwestern-most point of the United States.

(The Neah Bay name came when Capt. Kellet mispronounced Chief Dee-ah’s name so the village became Neah Bay.)

2,000-4,000 Makah

In the early 1800s there were between 2,000 and 4,000 Makah.

Each village contained longhouses built of cedar planks that measured about 30 feet by 70 feet.

They had many seasonal camps that were closer to the traditional fishing and whaling areas of the Makah.

The Makah had many challenges with the arrival of the white settlers.

In the 1850s smallpox was introduced and nearly wiped out the village of Bahaada.

In 1855, 42 representatives of the tribe signed a treaty with Washington Territory Gov. Isaac Stevens representing the United States.

They turned over 300,000 acres of tribal land, agreed to live on a small reservation and reserved the right to continue whaling, sealing and fishing in usual and accustomed areas.

Basically they did this to save their tribe’s way of life from extinction.

The following facts came from an article written by Mrs. Miriam Elizabeth Washburn printed in the book “Jimmy Come Lately; History of Clallam County.”

In 1857, a 65-foot brick lighthouse was built on Tatoosh Island and operated by the Coast Guard.

In 1859, James Swan became the Indian Agent for the Upper Peninsula tribes.

In 1872, the first school was opened by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It closed in 1895 and the children were sent to boarding schools.

In the 1930s, an elementary and a high school were built in Neah Bay.

In the 1890s, white people started homesteading.

Mr. Washburn was one of the early homesteaders.

In 1902, he purchased a trading post and it became a store.

Washburn’s was the only store for a long time.

It burned in 1962 and another one was built in a different location.

It burned in 1991, but was rebuilt and is still going strong in the community.

In 1911, their first wharf was built so ships could dock with supplies.

Before then they came in boats that anchored in the bay and canoes had to go out and get their supplies.

In 1924, the U.S. declared that Native Americans would be citizens.

Declared citizenship

In 1926, the Makah formally declared their citizenship and they started the Makah Days celebration.

Along with Makah Days came dancing and lots of singing.

In 1934, the tribe elected its first tribal council.

In 1942, a breakwater was built.

In 1950, the Makah Air Force Base was opened.

In 1970, the Ozette Village that had been partially covered by a huge landslide in the 18th century was excavated, uncovering 55,000 well-preserved artifacts.

Some of the artifacts they found were placed in the Makah Museum that opened in 1979.

This dig sparked the interest of many young people to engage in traditional practices to preserve them, and provided inspiration for academic and professional pursuits.

The Makah Tribe increased its efforts to teach children their language and their culture.

Their language was of the Wakashan language group, which is similar to the Nuu-chah-nulth languages of British Columbia.

According to Shirley Perete, enrollment officer, the current number of tribal members is approximately 2,941.

Cindy Clapanhoo wrote that she recognized the photo from the past as the Neah Bay fishing village.

She also said that her uncle Bill and his brother would paddle out to the draggers to clean the black cod for a nickel an hour.

Clapanhoo had a photo that her father had similar to the one printed in the paper, but it was taken in about 1920.

The town was a little bigger and there was a wharf built that wasn’t in the 1907 photo.

There were more fishing boats then also.

Clapanhoo also shared that there wasn’t a road into Neah Bay until 1931.

Before then, one went by canoe, boat or trails.

Rob Moss said, “When my Uncle Bill Wheeler and his older brother Stan were young boys, maybe 10-12 years old, they would paddle out to the draggers that were fishing for black cod off Cape Flattery and help clean the fish for .05 an hour.

“Bill was my great-uncle who taught me about commercial fishing and shared many stories while spending time with him during the summers growing up.

“Bill said the young boys were taught to be very careful when around the ocean in canoes.

“They were taught how to stay close to the canoe if they tipped over.

“He told me a story of a young boy, maybe 4 years old, who was in an accident when the canoe tipped over when coming ashore east of Pillar Point with his family.

“The boy could not be found after the canoe tipped over and all the belongings were floating and washing up on the beach.

“He was found later under the tipped over canoe hiding in an air pocket, safe because he knew what to do in case of an accident.

“My uncle Bill told me the story of cleaning black cod because the Makah slowly moved from salmon to black cod during the 90s as our main fishery and my uncle was alive to see this transformation.”

The history of Neah Bay is very complicated and lengthy so what you see here is just a snippet.

Many thanks to Janine Ledford of the Makah Museum for her editing of my original draft.


Alice Alexander is a Clallam County historian, author, and a descendent of an Elwha Valley pioneer family. She is a recipient of a 2014 Clallam County Heritage Awards. She can be reached at [email protected].

Alice’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month, alternating with Linnea Patrick’s Jefferson County history column on the third Sunday of the month.

May picture of the past
                                What memories do you have of this place? Send them to Alice Alexander at or write to her at 204 W. Fourth St., Apt. 14, Port Angeles, WA 8362 and she will include your comments in her column June 3. Comments need to be in by May 20.

May picture of the past What memories do you have of this place? Send them to Alice Alexander at [email protected] or write to her at 204 W. Fourth St., Apt. 14, Port Angeles, WA 8362 and she will include your comments in her column June 3. Comments need to be in by May 20.

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