PAT NEAL: The ‘Miracle of the Salmon’

This year’s big run of humpies, or pink salmon, in the Dungeness River is like a miracle. It brings to mind the first recorded “Miracle of the Salmon,” which happened at a Shaker meeting at Jamestown in 1921.

The Shakers are a Native American form of Christianity that began in October 1881 at Skookum Bay in Mason County when a Squaxin shaman, Squs-sacht-un, who was named John Slocum by the white man, knelt in the woods to think of the error of his ways and the evil days that had overtaken him and his friends.

Squs-sacht-un had lived a life of the “white man’s vices,” horse racing, whiskey drinking and idleness.

Squs-sacht-un became very ill and hovered near death for about two weeks while five Indian doctors tried to heal him. He died at four in the morning. His brother went to Olympia for a coffin and a grave was dug. Late the next afternoon, Squs-sacht-un recovered with a story to tell.

Squs-sacht-un then described an out-of-body experience where he looked down at his own dead body and saw he had no soul. He saw, “a great light from that good land,” where angels told him that he could not enter heaven, because he was so wicked. He had a choice of going to hell or returning to earth to warn people to change their ways.

Squs-sacht-un was told he was given four days to live. He prayed the whole time until another voice told him he could live four weeks if he would build a church. The church was built and Squs-sacht-un was told he could live four years if he lived right. He did, combining Catholic and Native American doctrine and ceremony into the “Shaker Church.”

They were called “Shakers” because their bodies would shake during the services as part of a healing ceremony that would rid a person of sickness, sin or both.

James Wickersham, a Tacoma attorney, said in 1892 that Shaker Church members, “practiced the strictest morality, sobriety and honesty. Their 600 members do not drink, gamble or race.”

The formation of the Shaker Church was occurring at the same time as the Ghost Dance of the Sioux, which resulted in their persecution and ultimately the massacre at Wounded Knee.

The Shaker Church was strongly opposed by their Indian Agent at the time, Edwin Eells and his missionary brother, the Rev. Myron Eells, who banished Squs-sacht-un and his associates from their reservation, then imprisoned them in chains in a single-room jail at the Indian Agency in Puyallup.

Then, with the passage of the Indian Land Severalty bill in 1886, land-holding, tax-paying Indians were no longer wards of the state or under the control of Indian Agents. Squs-sucht-un was freed.

The Shakers spread to Native American communities across western Washington. In 1890, a Shaker Church was built at Jamestown.

In 1921, the largest group of Shakers to ever assemble was at a convention at Jamestown.

No one thought there’d be so many mouths to feed. The Shakers prayed. As the tide went out, hundreds of humpies were stranded in the eel grass on the tide flats. It’s said in the old days, salmon were stranded on the tide flats every summer, but no one had seen this happening for 25 years before the Shaker Convention.

In 1967, an estimated 400,000 humpies ran up the Dungeness River. While this year’s run of humpies isn’t that big, the fact that there’s one humpy left after a century of gross mismanagement of this fishery is a miracle — the miracle of the salmon.

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwildlife@gmail.com.

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