IT’S TIME ONCE again for the Sequim Irrigation Festival, where we commemorate water being brought to the Sequim Prairie.
This is the oldest community celebration in the state of Washington. Traditions run deep here in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
Located in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, it was one of the first areas inhabited by early man after the melting of the continental ice sheet some 15,000 years ago, as evidenced by a spear point found lodged in the mastodon rib at the local Manis Mastodon Site.
It’s the oldest evidence of human activity in the Pacific Northwest.
The Sequim Prairie was a savannah grassland maintained by the Native Americans by regular burning, which attracted herds of deer and elk and propagated more than 80 different plants that were used as food, fiber and medicine.
In May of 1792, Capt. George Vancouver sailed his ship Discovery into the Strait of Juan de Fuca where he was so impressed with the beauty of the Sequim Prairie he named the area “Dungeness” after his home in England.
The most important crop on the Sequim Prairie might have been the camas, a small member of the lily family with a blue, hyacinth-shaped flower and a bulb that could be baked into a form of bread.
Camas might have been the most important source of carbohydrates to the S’Klallam. It was second only to dried salmon as a trade commodity.
In 1851, the first Americans settled on the beach at Dungeness. The Donation Land Claim Act allowed U.S. citizens to settle unclaimed lands.
The Native Americans were not U.S. citizens.
Their lands were considered unclaimed.
In 1852, Capt. Elijah McAlmond evicted a Native American village to build a house that stands to this day on a bluff that overlooks the mouth of the Dungeness River.
In 1853, the first settler appeared on the Sequim Prairie.
The elk were hunted for the market in Victoria, B.C. Hogs were turned loose to eat the camas.
The Sequim Prairie became a desert complete with cactus and grasshoppers so thick they ate the moss off the fence rails.
In 1854, Whiskey Flats, named for the town’s only industry, selling whiskey to Native Americans, was declared the county seat for the newly created Clallam County. The name was a mispronunciation of S’Klallam, which means “the Strong People.”
By 1855, the S’Klallam were so reduced they signed the Point No Point Treaty, trading 750,000 acres of land for a distant reservation shared with their enemies, the Skokomish.
With the miracle of the first irrigation ditch in 1895, the Sequim Prairie blossomed into a dairy farming community, leaching manure into the Dungeness River while spewing salmon, trout and steelhead onto the fields for fertilizer.
By 1950, there were 300 dairies in Sequim.
Beginning in the 1960s, the dairy farms were divided into housing developments.
Sequim became a retirement community.
The population of Sequim exploded to the point where a highway bypassing the town was built in 1999. At present, there are two remaining dairies in the area.
The irrigation ditches have been run into plastic pipes. Sequim, once a town famous for its crops, cows and butterfat production, is known for its shopping.
As of Tuesday, the city of Sequim was in third place in the running for the Best Small Town for Shopping distinction in the USA Today 10Best Reader’s Choice Awards.
It all adds up to what should be the best Irrigation Festival ever!
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]