North Cascades
Ethnography of The North Cascades
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The Thompson tribe was composed of two "divisions," of a Lower group and an Upper cluster of bands. In general, the Lower Thompson, as described below, were the people of the Fraser Canyon and of the forested hills and mountains that lay on either side of this awesome chasm and reached southward into the upper Skagit country within the boundaries of the North Cascades National Park. The Upper Thompson, in contrast, had their homeland in the open forest, sagebrush, hill, and mountain country of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers east of the Cascades.

Because of the particular concerns of this study, the locus of this chapter is on the Lower Thompson. Two bodies of data dealing with this group, the ethnographic and ethnohistorical, are merged in the following pages. Nevertheless, the information is not extensive. To fill important subject lacunae and add meaningful cultural details, this relatively meager data base is extended by the incorporation of a substantial corpus of ethnographic material relating to the Thompson tribe as a whole and to the Upper Division more particularly. The fundamental life modes of the two groups were certainly much the same. Still, there were some notable and surely many subtle differences, in part the consequence of the different ecological settings of the central home areas of the two divisions and in part owing to the greater exposure of the canyon people to coastal and lower Fraser influences and of the upper people to Plateau contacts. At least to the extent that both divisions made substantial use of the higher sections of their country in hunting, gathering, and even fishing, their cultural behavior must have been fundamentally identical. Fortunately, this is the segment of tribal life of special interest to this present study. To keep the data properly sorted out, however, the specific population entity described is identified where these facts are provided in the source. When no such data appear in the following pages, the information is to be understood as presumably generic Thompson in its relevance.

The ethnographic material on the Lower Thompson is drawn in part from James Teit's (1900) extended, first-hand report on the Thompson Indians. While bearing largely on the Upper Division, it presents some data, either expressly stated or implied, that pertain to both groups and other information described as relating exclusively to the Lower people. Teit, who was married to a Thompson woman and spoke the language fluently as well as neighboring related languages, was discovered by Franz Boas in 1894 and was given a certain amount of basic ethnographic training. With Boas' support he recorded in depth the traditional life of the Thompson Indians as he saw it, then in its final stages, and supplemented these observations by informant inquiry. His Upper Thompson manuscript was prepared in 1895; that on the Lower Thompson, in 1897. The two were merged by Franz Boas in Teit's 1900 publication. The data are especially rich in the material culture sections, though quite respectable in many other cultural domains. They show, of course, the subject gaps common in ethnographic studies of his time. They also possess less obvious flaws -- and doubtless strengths -- as a consequence of Boas' editorial attention: in some subject areas -- e.g., art and mythology -- it is not invariably easy to ascertain which of the two is speaking (see Maud 1982:63-77). Nevertheless, Teit's Thompson report ranks high among Plateau ethnographies. Additional ethnographic details are extracted from a number of Teit's (1898, 1928, 1930a, 1930b, 1930c) other studies and incorporated into the cultural account that follows. Owing to time pressures, the scraps of folkway data imbedded in his extensive mythic collections have not been extracted and introduced into this report.

To Teit's data for the Thompson as a whole, for the upriver bands in particular, and for the Lower Thompson where specifically indicated is added the ethnographic information secured by Verne Ray (1942) in the 1930s from a Lower Thompson informant then in his 60s. These data are unique in describing in their entirety the traditional culture of the Lower group, revealing, when compared with Teit's material, their lifeway differences from the cultural patterns of the Upper people (Ray 1942:103). As noted in more extended form in the following Chelan chapter, Ray's data were collected through a culture-element check-list in which traits were succinctly defined and then coded simply as present, absent, sometimes occurring, practiced by women only, etc. They are grouped into functional complexes -- e.g., into a trait cluster dealing with deer hunting methods. Nevertheless, individual elements are not infrequently difficult to assemble into satisfying clear and coherent wholes, and relationships between complexes are obscure. Further, the data were gathered from a single informant and some 40 years after Teit's material and so doubtless with some unknown amount of tribal culture-memory loss: accordingly, some of the apparent differences between Lower and Upper cultural practices are surely an artifact of imperfect and incomplete data. Finally, Ray's contact with the Lower Thompson was brief and therefore in a sense casual rather than personal and intensive over years as in Teit's case. On the other hand, Ray's information has all the marks of a first-rate professional ethnographer with a wide and detailed knowledge of Plateau cultures and was secured using careful, systematic field techniques. It represents, in fact, the only intensive ethnographic fieldwork to my understanding on the traditional culture of the Lower Thompson, the division that utilized the Park country, and is, therefore, especially valuable in the context of this present study.

In the 1890s Charles Hill-Tout undertook a field study of the Upper Thompson. Published in 1900, his report consists primarily of an ethnographic section, a few remarks on the archaeology of the Thompson homeland and on the physical characteristics and language of the tribe, and a comparatively long myth collection. Relevant incidental data in this report that concern the Lower Thompson are meshed into this present chapter, as is occasional Upper Thompson information of special interest, as where it fleshes out an otherwise inadequate Lower Division account. English-trained as a clergyman, Hill-Tout is at many points naive in his description and theoretical underpinning, as well as curiously wandering and irrelevant. Approaching the Thompson with a coastal Indian, British pastor, and firm Anglo-European mind-set, he speaks, for example, of a Thompson chief as the "lord paramount," of a Thompson nobility where, in fact, no inherited class distinctions existed, of the Thompson as having "many singular and superstitious customs and practices," and, on the other hand, of the group as a "finer... race than their congeners on the coast" (Hill-Tout 1900:501, 506, 513, 517). He alludes to, but happily does not discuss here, his uninformed theory of a South Pacific origin for the entire Salishan group (Hill-Tout 1900:517). Yet he had the good fortune of working with Chief Mischelle, a highly intelligent Upper Thompson Indian and evidently a fine informant. In recording his field data, Hill-Tout took minimal notes, later expanded them from memory, and still later checked his enlarged draft with his informant. In this process, he freely introduces an unmistakable Hill-Tout element, especially in his mythic sections where descriptive color is added to heighten the impact of the narrative and suggest the emotional content of the teller's performance. So far as these myths are concerned, though straying from the narrator's often greatly compressed version since the tale ../background was well understood by his listeners, this technique produces a richer and in a special, broad sense, a rather more faithful rendition of the myth in its native cultural context. Hill-Tout's information cannot compare with Teit's intimate, detailed, and well informed data of the same time period (cf. Maud 1982:29-38).

A few further notes on Thompson ethnography have been drawn from two narrowly focused studies by Teit (1930c) on Thompson tattooing and body painting, have been borrowed from a compendium of Plateau food plant data by Turner (1978), and have been culled from several other sources of lesser importance.

Because of time pressures, the ethnohistorical sources have not been properly surveyed for early data that would expand meaningfully the ethnographic picture of traditional Lower Thompson lifeways. So far as this Division is concerned, however, the most important historical archive has been thoroughly examined and its significant ethnographic remarks placed in their proper context in this present study. This document is the record of Simon Fraser, made when he and his party, exploring, descended and then returned up the Fraser River in the summer of 1808.

Some few fragments of additional ethnohistorical material have also found their way into the following account. These include in particular the observations of Sir George Simpson who passed down the Fraser Canyon by watercraft in 1828 and those of R. C. Mayne, a member of the British Boundary Commission, who ascended the Fraser gorge in 1858. Fraser's report of the terrifying hazards of the Fraser Canyon, confirmed 20 years later by the disbelieving Simpson, led the traders to seek and find alternative routes over the Cascades in this region. One such path proceeded up the Coquihalla and then overland either up to the Kamloops area on the Thompson River or over to the Tulameen and Similkameen and down to the Okanagan country. Another ran up Harrison Lake to Anderson and Seton Lakes and on to the Kamloops sector of the Fraser. Both by-passed the supremely dangerous canyon sector of the Fraser, the core portion of the Lower Thompson territory. It is not surprising, given the hostile environmental accounts of Fraser and later Simpson, that early visitors to the Lower Thompson canyon villages were few and that ethnohistorical documents for the pre-1850 period are largely lacking.

As noted by Mayne (1862:305ff), no Protestant missionary entered the upper Fraser and Thompson River country before 1857. The extent to which the Catholic priests administered to the Thompson in earlier years I do not know, but Mayne, quoting Hudson's Bay Company sources, reports for even the lower Fraser Valley that their efforts were ineffective in changing the Indian life in any material way. These remarks are confirmed by Teit (1930c:403) who notes that the White influence on the Thompson first became strong about 1858. It was, in fact, only the discovery of gold in the 1850s on the "bars" of the Fraser from Hope on upstream by Yale and through the canyon reach to the Lytton district that brought Whites in numbers into the deep gorge country and the home area of the Lower Thompson. At any rate, I know of no published missionary records or Hudson's Bay reports that provide ethnohistorical data of significance relating to the Lower Division and its homeland during the first half of the 1800s.


In this section are summarized (a) the various terms used for the Thompson tribe by other groups and for its Lower and Upper Divisions, (b) the traditional boundaries of the Lower Thompson, (c) the cultural and linguistic affiliations of the tribe, (d) the population data available for the early postcontact years, and (e) the physical characteristics of the tribal members.


The Thompson are referred to in the literature under several alternative names. Among these are the following, some of which occur in orthographic variants:

Couteau or Knife Indians: used by early Hudson's Bay Company personnel (Teit 1900:167).

Cê'qtamux: occasional Lillooet term (Teit 1900:167).

Lükatimü'x: occasional Okanagan term (Teit 1900:167). Variant in Columbia Salish (Teit 1928:92).

Nko'atamux: Shuswap term (Teit 1900:167). Variants in Southern Okanagan (Walters in Spier 1938:78), Sanpoil-Nespelem (Ray 1932:11), Columbia Salish (Teit 1928:92), Okanagan Sanpoil-Lakes (Teit 1930b:202).

Nicouta-much or Nicouta-meens: recorded by Mayne (1862:296) for the Thompson as a single group, whose territory extended from Spuzzum northward to that of the "At-naks or Shuswap-much" [Shuswap]. A variant -- possibly only an orthographic variant -- of the preceding term, but spelled so differently that it deserves mention.

NLak·a'pamux: derived from the Thompson name for themselves (Teit 1900:167).

SEm'mila: used by neighboring Indians of Fraser delta (Teit 1900:167).

Sa'lic: occasional Okanagan term (Teit 1900:167).

Numerous additional variants of some of the above, with citations to the generally old and obscure publications in which they appear, are listed by Hodge (1910:89). Swanton (1952:588-589) obviously merely reproduces Teit's data. The terms in the above inventory are spelled as they appear in one or more of the references cited; no attempt has been made to reduce the disparate phonetic systems to a common base.

As noted below, the Thompson had names designating their two divisions -- the Upper and Lower groups -- and among the Upper Thompson that distinguished their four major bands -- the Lytton, Upper Fraser, Spences Bridge, and Nicola units to employ Teit's terms. The Lower Thompson, a comparatively small, compact, and culturally and linguistically essentially homogeneous group, had no band units paralleling those of the upper people. They had, however, names for each of their 19 villages as itemized by Teit, their residents commonly being referred to as "the people of X village." (Boas 1895:524; Teit 1900:169-171)

Tribal Territory

The Thompson were separated in their own view into two somewhat distinct population clusters, marked by significant cultural and minor dialectic differences: into Upper and Lower Divisions to use Teit's (1900:166, 168, 171) designations.

The Upper group -- the Nku'kümamux, "people above [Lytton]" -- -occupied a section of the Fraser River, the lower reaches of the Thompson River which flows into the Fraser, and the lower Nicola River, a small tributary of the Thompson (Figure 3-1). To some extent even in early traditional times they hunted for elk and deer and fished all over the middle Nicola drainage as well, making it their home for parts of the year, some wintering there, even though this was strictly country belonging to the Athapascan-speaking Nicola tribe. This Upper Thompson region east of the Cascades was rugged and hilly, but the mountain contours were rounded and their slopes gentle. The surface was intersected by many deep and narrow valleys. Somewhat farther east rolling hills or plateaus prevailed. Lower elevations were covered with sagebrush, greasewood, and other dry climate vegetation; the higher altitudes and mountain tops supported grass and scattered timber, principally pine. Summers were hot; winters were generally short and only moderately cold with light snowfall. (Teit 1900:168, 175, 178, 1930b:213-214; cf. Mayne 1862:383)

The Lower Thompson -- the Ut'mqtamux. "people below [Lytton]" -- claimed the deep canyon and rushing river segment of the Fraser Valley where it sliced through the Coast Range south of the country of the Upper group, whence the designation "Canyon Indians" sometimes given them. In addition to the very important Fraser River itself, they used as their principal subsistence grounds the rugged country, with its towering mountains, narrow valleys, deep gorges, and thick timber, on both sides of the Fraser. To the southeast and south they also exploited the food and other resources of the regions of the Coquihalla River and the Upper Skagit. According to Teit's Thompson informants, they likewise hunted in and claimed the Chilliwack Lake and upper Chilliwack River area (Figure 3-1). This Lower Division also considered as theirs and ranged over in their hunting activities an area south of the international border, specifically the northern section of the North Cascades Park Complex and the high country on both sides of the present Ross Lake. (Concerning conflicting aboriginal claims to and subsistence use of these Chilliwack and Upper Skagit areas, see comments below.)

In physical and biological terms, the country of the Lower Thompson was very complex. It extended from the bottom of the Fraser Canyon, with an elevation of only a few hundred feet, upward to rugged mountain peaks with areas of permanent snow and an arctic-alpine environment well above tree-line. East and west it reached from some distance west of the Cascades crest up over the watershed and down their east-facing slopes to just within the comparatively low and dry ponderosa pine country of the upper Similkameen. In fact, six distinct biogeoclimatic zones (including the Ponderosa Pine-Bunchgrass Zone in the east) are found within its borders (see later section discussing the Lower Thompson utilization of their high country), with their widely varying altitudes, precipitation levels, seasonal patterns, native animal and plant assemblages, and other natural resources so essential to a hunting, fishing, gathering way of life. Fraser Canyon, the site of the tribe's splendid salmon fisheries and all winter villages, was a region of abundant rainfall, especially in the south western quarter, and of heavy timber, primarily fir and cedar. Game was rather scarce; the taking of salmon was all important. Winters were short and the snowfall was occasionally heavy. (Teit 1900:166,168,169)

As the Nicola tribe vanished as a distinct ethnic entity during the early and middle 1800s, the Upper Thompson took over the middle Nicola Valley sector, while the Lower Thompson reached eastward into the middle Tulameen River country (Figure 3-1). Gradually they extended their territory down the Similkameen Valley to a point between Hedley and Keremeos, where they met the Okanagan expanding westward up the Similkameen. At first they hunted over this eastern country -- elk were especially abundant there -- and then began to maintain winter villages in the area. (Teit 1900:166, 168, 169, 1930b:204, 213, 214, 218, 257; see also Swanton 1952:430)

Figure 3-1. Territorial limits of the Lower Thompson (Utamqt) Division as defined by Teit (1900:166). Letters (a)-(j) identify a number of additional geographic features.

The Lower Thompson boundary is emphasized by a heavy dot-dash line. The approximate territorial limits of the Athapascan Nicola, which disappeared as an ethnic entity in early historic times, is strengthened by a heavy dash line.

Arrows have been added at the international border to mark the approximate eastern (E) and western (W) limits of the North Cascades National Park Complex.

Teit's "Klickitat" term for the group adjacent to the Thompson on the south was an early vernacular designation for some or all of the peoples on the eastern face of the Cascades from the Thompson south to the Dalles-Vancouver region. On this map it refers to the Upper Skagit.

Since the concern of this report is with the groups that made use of the Park region, close attention is given in the following paragraphs only to the traditional territorial boundaries of the Lower Thompson.

The boundaries of the aboriginal territory of the Thompson are not well described by Teit in his text. This is particularly true for the Lower Thompson and especially so for the small segment of their homeland that stretched into the mountainous terrain south of the Canadian line. We are told only that the hunting grounds of the Lower Thompson extended "southward to the head waters of Nooksack and Skagit Rivers" (Teit 1900:168). On the other hand Teit's (1900:166) tribal location map marks off the southern territorial limits of the Lower group with sufficient precision to allow them to be followed on contemporary maps.

According to this map (Figure 3-1), based it must be assumed on informant data but surely somewhat generalized, the home country of the Lower Division followed the Cascades crest from the present international line, describing an arc to the southwest around the headwaters of Lightning Creek. It crossed the upper Skagit River -- today's Ross Lake -- just above the mouth of Big Beaver Creek and headed westward over the mountains to the uppermost reaches of Baker River and Mount Shuksan. Thence it curved to the northwest to the Mount Baker region, crossed the North Fork of the Nooksack River in the Glacier area, and finally bent northeastward to arrive at the Canadian boundary southeast of Sumas Lake, now drained.

Evidently this region within the present State of Washington was regarded by the Lower Thompson as aboriginally theirs, for Teit (1900:175, see also 178) writes:

So far as current tradition tells, the tribal boundaries have always been the same as they are at the present day ... [i.e., in the 1890s, except for the Nicola and Similkameen River sectors taken over in the 1800s from the Nicola tribe].

Reference to the preceding Skagit and Chilliwack chapters will demonstrate that in the upper Skagit and upper Chilliwack country within the Park region, the ethnographic literature records conflicting territorial claims. The upper Skagit tribe considered theirs, according to Collins, the Skagit River to near its sources, though her informants conceded that the Thompson used the northern portion of this area in their food quest. Specifically, Collins (1974a:5) writes: "[On the north the Upper Skagit tribal country reached] the territory of the Thompson Indians who hunted along the Skagit headwaters in Canada. One northern headwater of the Skagit River comes near their territories."

The Chilliwack tribe, for its part, certainly had solid claim to Chilliwack Lake and to the Chilliwack River both feeding and emptying the lake. It may be seriously questioned whether in traditional times the Lower Thompson often -- perhaps ever -- ventured down into these lower elevations as Teit indicates.

One concludes that the Skagit region from some, presumably rather short, distance above the present international boundary downstream to the southern end of today's Ross Lake was a contested region, at least in the late protohistoric and traditional postcontact period. It was ranged over by Lower Thompson, Upper Skagit, and to some degree Chilliwack hunting and gathering parties. The northern valley and adjacent mountains were visited more by the Upper Thompson; the western mountains lying between the Skagit and Chilliwack Rivers and particularly their western flanks, primarily by the Chilliwack; and the more southern sector of this region in the lower Ross Lake area, mainly by the Upper Skagit.

Cultural and Linguistic Affiliation

It has been noted that according to Ray (1936:108:1939:147) the Thompson were culturally northward and eastward looking, most resembling the Lillooet, Shuswap, and Northern Okanagan and thus being perceptibly different in their lifeways from the nearby Southern Okanagan and other groups south of the international boundary. Teit (1900:167) made essentially this same point much earlier in an even more refined but more impressionistic manner in observing that the Thompson were culturally most akin to the Shuswap to their northeast. Both, however, were speaking most particularly of the Upper Thompson. The Lower Division, in contrast, was in many respects culturally oriented toward the lower Fraser and nearby coastal tribes, a leaning attested to by much of the data in the ethnographic section that follows.

The speech of the Thompson comprised a distinct language, most closely related but still unintelligible to that of the Shuswap to the north and to that of the Lillooet to the west (Figure 3-1). These three languages of interior British Columbia made up the Northern Group within the Interior Salishan Division; the Southern Group included the four Salishan languages -- Columbian, Okanagan, Kalispel, and Coeur d'Alene -- east of the Cascades and south of the Canadian border. Thompson speech was substantially more distantly akin to the Salishan languages of the British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon coast. (Thompson 1979:692-695)

The speech of the Upper and Lower Thompson differed only at the dialect level: i.e., the two divisions were able to understand one another (Boas 1895:524; Teit 1900:171).


No serious approximations of the size of the aboriginal population of the Lower Thompson appear, so far as I am aware, in the ethnographic literature. An attempt in this direction for the Thompson tribe as a whole and a few general comments concerning postcontact population reductions are, however, worth introducing into the record.

About 1835 Hudson's Bay personnel undertook a census of various Indian groups of British Columbia. These published counts, as Duff (1964:38) observes, are in general "obviously and grossly inaccurate," and so fail to provide an acceptable starting point toward late protohistoric and early postcontact demographic approximations. Duff's own attempt to begin with the first accurate censuses of the 1880s and work backward, taking into consideration epidemics, wars, and so on, yields some figures, but he collapses all these for the Interior Salishan peoples into one group from which it is impossible to extract the Thompson as a specific component of the total. (Duff 1964:39)

Sometime around 1850 I gather, A. C. Anderson, a chief factor in the Hudson's Bay Company who had "travelled a great deal in ... [the interior, Plateau] country," estimated the Thompson and Shuswap tribes together, groups "mustering annually on the Fraser," at 6,000 or 8,000 persons (Mayne 1862:43, 297). There is no way to divide this demographic lump figure between the two tribes, much less between the Upper and Lower Divisions of the Thompson. This may be one of the Company census figures to which Duff alludes, but, if so, whether it is one of the better or one of the more imperfect "counts" in Duff's judgment is uncertain. In any event it, like other similar lumping demographic estimates of the mid-i 800s, furnishes no useful information regarding the Lower Thompson population size.

The only early population estimate for the Lower Thompson provided in the historical accounts of which I am aware is the rough approximation of Simpson (1947:34-38). In his brief account of his two-day water journey down the Fraser Canyon in mid-October of 1828, he writes that "the Natives ... were exceedingly numerous" and that "the whole of this [canyon] population ... [numbered] several thousand souls." Impressionistic though this figure is, it is still not without meaning, for Simpson had just come down the upper Fraser River to Alexandria, gone by horse from there across to Kamloops, and then descended the lower Thompson River through the Upper Thompson country. In the lower Thompson River area he had observed that the population "is numerous, forming themselves into Camps of 10 to 12 Families at the different [salmon] Rapids" and that "the Natives ... become more numerous as we descend" the Thompson to its mouth. His Lower Thompson demographic note, as reported above, was written against this ../background.

On the subject of population reduction among the Thompson in the 1800s through diseases of epidemic proportions a few fragments of ethnographic and ethnohistorical information have been uncovered.

In his 1908-1909 manuscript, Mooney (1928:2, 27) gives some attention to the population reductions among the native groups of interior British Columbia, but his data seem confusing. On the one hand, he reports that the inland tribes of the province suffered much less from the early epidemics than the coastal groups. On the other hand, he observes that the great 1781-1782 smallpox epidemic was very destructive throughout British Columbia and that the tribes of the region were "greatly reduced by repeated visitations of smallpox and other epidemics, of which the most destructive was the smallpox epidemic which swept the Fraser River country and northward along the coast in 1802" (Mooney 1928:27). He does not state that this 1802 scourge moved up the Fraser River as far as the Thompson, but he appears to imply as much. If this is his meaning, the interior Fraser groups must have been hit badly by these pestilences, though still conceivably not as severely as the coastal peoples. And further, if this is his meaning, then Teit's data holding that the real depopulation began in the 1850s (see later paragraph) requires modification. In any event, Mooney's (1928:29) estimate for the Thompson population (Upper and Lower Divisions together) in 1780 is 5,000 persons.

In light of Mooney's largely reconstructive data, a journal entry by Fraser (1960:94) is of more than casual interest. On the evening of June 24, 1808, he encamped in a Lower Thompson village within Fraser Canyon and observed that smallpox "was in the [Indian] camp, and several of the Natives were marked with it." This seems to clinch the proposition that smallpox climbed the Fraser River at least as far as the Lower Thompson by the early 1800s, for it is improbable that all of these "several" Indians would have been visitors from downriver, where the testimony is conclusive as to the earlier arrival of the disease. Negative evidence is always suspect but it is of moderate interest that Fraser makes no mention of the ailment in his contacts with Indian groups farther up the Fraser either when descending or later when ascending the river.

Teit's (1900:175) ethnographic information is in agreement concerning the frightful effects of disease on the Thompson people in the 1800s, but indicates that the initial appearance of epidemics differed notably between the Lower and Upper Divisions. Specifically, he writes that his native Thompson informants and Whites already long residents in the area in the 1890s both affirmed that the Thompson in the late 1800s were "greatly reduced in numbers." The existence in the 1890s of numerous ruins of underground dwellings is not in themselves acceptable evidence for depopulation: single families often constructed several such houses and, after the first smallpox epidemic, many survivors moved from small villages to larger communities and constricted new dwellings there. Nevertheless:

The old people say [for the Upper Thompson] that forty or fifty years ago [i.e., 1850s], when travelling along Thompson River, the smoke of Indian camp-fires was always in view. This will be better understood when it is noted that the course of Thompson River is very tortuous, and that in many places one can see but a very short distance up or down the river. The old Indians compare the number of people formerly living in the vicinity of Lytton to "ants about an ant-hill." Although they cannot state the number of inhabitants forty years ago, there are still old men living who can give approximately the number of summer lodges or winter houses along Thompson River at that time, showing clearly the great decrease which has taken place. (Teit 1900:175)

With reference to the Lower Thompson specifically:

In 1858 when white miners first arrived in the country, the Indian population between Spuzzum and Lytton was estimated at not less than two thousand, while at present it is probably not over seven hundred. If that be correct, and assuming that the number in the upper part of the tribe was in about the same proportion to those in the lower as now [c. 1897], the population of the entire tribe would have numbered [in the 1850s] at least five thousand. (Teit 1900:175)

This estimate should be seen in the context of the fact that, according to Teit (1900:175), about 1856 the tribe had been depopulated by a devastating famine that struck nearly the entire interior of British Columbia. Still, in Teit's judgment, the significant decrease in the Upper Thompson population occurred only after 1858 or 1859 when the Whites first arrived in numbers. Or, as Teit (1930b:212-213) explains the situation more precisely in a later publication: "It appears that the ... Thompson escaped all the epidemics until 1857 and 1862."

The situation, again from Teit's evidence, was apparently rather different among the Lower Thompson. While smallpox was said by his informants to have struck the Upper Thompson only once in their memory, it reached the Lower Thompson three or four times, first near the beginning of the 1800s. This disease was the most important cause of their depopulation during the nineteenth century. The 1863 epidemic, for example, must have carried off between one-third and one-fourth of the population, Teit's Lower Division informants asserted. Many people fled to the mountains for safety and dropped dead on the trail; others attempted to survive by retiring to their sweathouses, only to die within their walls. (Teit 1900:176) These data regarding the appearance of smallpox among the Lower Thompson very early in the nineteenth century, before it reached the Upper bands, is reassuringly consistent with Fraser's comments and the implications of his narrative for more upriver areas as noted above.

On its face, the extraordinary difference in the epidemic history of the Upper and Lower Thompson as reported by Teit seems improbable. White trade goods were observed by Fraser in 1808 among both the Upper and the Lower groups. Items of trade of coastal origin reached both Divisions through intermediary tribes. And the Upper and Lower villages were in constant contact, although the relationship was not as close as between many friendly neighboring tribes elsewhere owing to the difficulties of moving about within the Fraser Canyon. If the Lower Division smallpox situation is properly described -- at least Fraser's data seem straightforward enough -- it would be remarkable if the Upper people escaped the disease until the 1850s.

Physical Characteristics

In the early and middle 1890s Boas (1895:524-551) collected a series of anthropometric data among the Indian groups of the northern Pacific coastal area and the adjacent interior, including measurements on members of the two Thompson Divisions who appeared to have minimal White admixture. In his analysis of these Thompson data, the figures for the Lower Thompson were kept separate from those of the Upper bands. Averages were computed for the various physical features measured, sensibly regarded by Boas not as defining a "typical" person but merely as approximations useful in intergroup comparisons. As he observes, they turned out to be surprising for their geographical regularity: e.g., from the exceedingly short Harrison Lake people the stature increased tribe by tribe in all directions, irrespective of subsistence base and substantial variations in cultural configuration, suggesting a very stable population over a large region.

A detailed comparison of the Lower Thompson data with the comparable figures for other groups would be out of place in this report. But the measurements for this Division and their relationship with those for the Upper Thompson may be summarized. The average stature of the Lower males of Spuzzum village was 160.5 cm (63.2 in) and of those of the villages farther upstream was 161.0 cm (63.4 in). The stature figure for the Upper Thompson band on the Fraser and lower Thompson River in the Lytton region was 162.7 cm (64.1 in) and for the band still farther up the Thompson was 165.7 cm (65.2 in). The comparable stature averages for females in these four groups was somewhat lower in each instance as would be anticipated. (Boas 1895:524, 530, 531)

Similar average figures are recorded by Boas (1895:533-538) for both men and women for head length and breadth, facial height and breadth, and nasal height and breadth. "Indexes" are computed for head, face, and nose, revealing the proportion of the smaller measurement in each pair to the larger measurement. These are technical details which can be best summarized descriptively.

The Thompson -- Lower and Upper Divisions together -- proved to be generally intermediate in these measurements and indices between an Interior Salish -- and Sahaptian -- type (represented by the Flathead, Okanagan, and Shuswap over the interior of northwestern Montana, northern Idaho, interior Washington, and southern interior British Columbia) and the Harrison Lake type (to the west). From this fact, Boas (1895:544) saw the Thompson as essentially a mixture of these two types, the conventional way of interpreting anthropometric distributional data of this sort in Boas' time.

More descriptively, the Thompson were considerably darker in skin color than the Indians of the neighboring coast, their heads were narrower (though still broad), their faces were lower and narrower than among their neighbors, and their noses were broader. The most interesting point, however, to emerge from their field data is that the Upper and Lower Thompson were physically notably different from one another in spite of the similarity of much of their fundamental culture, their essential linguistic unity, and the view of the two divisions themselves that they comprised a single tribal entity. The Lower people resembled more the Harrison Lake type; the Upper folk looked more like the Shuswap and Okanagan. But even more intriguing from Boas anthropomorphic records is the fact that the Upper Thompson band of the lower Thompson Valley presented peculiarities of their own, which may represent a retention of their archaic physical traits or "may be due to admixture of Tinneh blood" (Boas 1895:549). These "Tinneh" were the Athapascan groups, presumably in this instance the Nicola of the Nicola and Similkameen Valleys and perhaps to some extent the Chilcotin and Carrier to the north of the Lillooet and Shuswap.

While obviously not biological characteristics in the above sense, it is of some interest to note Teit's (1900:180-181) assessment of the "mental traits," as he terms them, of the Lower Thompson. In brief, at least in the 1890s the members of this group were "quieter and steadier than the people of the upper division, but at the same time they seem[ed] to be slower and less energetic. They . . . [were] better fishermen and more expert in handling canoes, while the Upper Thompson . . . [were] better horsemen."

The behavioral differences noted by Teit appear consistent with the different cultural bases of the two divisions -- largely fishing in the first instance, and hunting and more roving in the second -- and with the kinds of personality emphasis that might be logically encouraged by these different lifeways.


The staples of the Lower Thompson were salmon -- the principal food -- with deer, roots, and berries as important but supplementary foods (cf. Simpson 1947:33, 38). According to Teit (1900:230), undoubtedly speaking primarily of the Upper Thompson, many people lived in the mountains much of the year, moving about seasonally from one deer-feeding, root, or berry ground to another. The men trapped and hunted while the women gathered and prepared the plant foods. Only when cold weather arrived did they return to their winter dwellings. This, however, was obviously not the pattern for many -- possibly most -- Lower Thompson families with their fine salmon fisheries in the Fraser canyon. Nevertheless, it would be most surprising if some of these families, either by preference or because they had no ready access to salmon sites, failed to follow this seasonal routine. And still others, though fishing during the principal runs, must have gone to the hills outside the canyon for game and vegetable foods at other times, as the lists of foods obtained by the group compiled in the paragraphs that follow demonstrate. It must have been just such parties of Lower Thompson that sought elk and deer in the Tulameen region and food resources down in the Skagit River country of the North Cascades Park.

In his journal of June, 1808, Simon Fraser makes a point of considerable comparative interest. As soon as he, on his voyage of exploration down the Fraser River, entered the country of the Lower Thompson (his "Nailgemugh") he observed that this group was "better supplied with the necessaries of life than any of those we have hitherto seen" (Fraser 1960:94), comparing them with the Lillooet and Upper Thompson people farther upstream. These "necessaries" surely including food, it is worth noting that at various villages within the canyon he and his party received edibles, generally "in abundance," to satisfy their subsistence needs. Mentioned specifically on one or more occasions are fresh salmon (boiled or roasted), dried fish, green and dried berries, wild onions, hazel nuts and other nuts of excellent quality (Fraser 1960:94, 97,116,117,118).


Salmon of five varieties were the principal food secured by the Lower Thompson. Trout and "fish of many [other] kinds" were taken especially in spring and autumn. Owing, however, to the special physical conditions of their canyon stretch of the Fraser, the Lower Thompson caught plenty of salmon even in years when the fish were comparatively scarce. Consequently, they cured only the finest fish: the chinook, from which much oil was obtained, was considered the best. (Teit 1900:230-231, 251)

Agreeing with Teit on the primary importance of chinook salmon and the lesser importance of trout among the Lower Thompson, Ray (1942:104) provides further data on the other varieties of fish to which Teit alludes. In addition to trout, of some significance in the diet were salmon trout, sturgeon, suckers, and eels. On the other hand, steelhead trout, though available, were unimportant, and dog salmon and whitefish were unknown in Lower Division country -- at least within the canyon.

Women participated in all fishing activities, except the actual spearing process (Teit 1900:115).

Figure 3-2. Thompson bag-net (Teit 1900:250 Figure 230).

Salmon and other large fish were taken with bag-nets (Figure 3-2). The Indian-hemp net was attached to small horn rings that slid along a fir or cedar hoop. This hoop was fixed to a long wooden handle. A string ran from the net to the fisherman's hand. When a fish entered the net, the man released the string and the weight of the fish closed the mouth of the net by sliding it along the wooden hoop. The fish, clubbed or with its neck broken, was placed in a pit previously made nearby by cleaning away the boulders to leave a sandy or gravel surface encircled by the stones. (Ray 1942:109; Teit 1900:249-250)

Long drag nets, with wooden floats and stone sinkers, were set in lakes and river pools overnight and hauled into canoes in the morning (Teit 1900:250). Presumably it is to these nets that Ray (1942:108-109) refers in reporting that Lower Thompson seines were netted of Indian hemp cordage to a length of as much as 60 feet. These were attached to end sticks, and were, as Teit states, sometimes provided with wooden floats and bottom weights and were emptied into canoes.

Salmon were caught in dip nets from platforms built out over the river where the fish, attempting to ascend the fast water, came close to the bank. Stakes were driven into the stream about 3 yards upstream from the platform, if the water was clear, to make it rough and foamy and so to conceal the net. The net was drawn downstream at intervals. This fishing method was especially suited to the Lower Thompson territory in the Fraser canyon, where the very rapid water compelled the fish to hug the banks, the water was typically muddy, many low rocks projected into the river making natural fine dip-net sites, and the fish, only recently from the sea, were superior. Because of the many rocks in their canyon from which to fish, the Lower Thompson fashioned these platforms less frequently than did the Upper Thompson. On the other hand, their bag-nets often had to have very long handles. (Hill-Tout 1900:509-510; Teit 1900:250-251)

The dip nets of the above scoop type, Ray (1942:109-110) explains, were suspended from a circular hoop attached to an A-frame, single-pole handle. The nets themselves were united to the hoop with horn or occasionally maple slip-rings, thus constructed like the bag nets described by Teit in an earlier paragraph. They were used from platforms both for salmon and for smaller fish.

On June 25,1808, Simon Fraser (1960:95), descending the Fraser River on his journey of exploration, saw a Lower Thompson man "on the opposite side [of the river] fishing Salmon with a dipping net." Details concerning its construction and use are not furnished.

Fish, when running, were also taken by the Thompson from the bank with a spear made with a two-pronged point, each bearing a detachable tip with a barb directed inward (Figure 3-3). Each tip was attached to the handle by a line so it could come loose from the handle when the fish was struck. A spear with a single barbed point, sometimes detachable, was also used particularly for large trout from rocks on the river bank or from canoes at night with the aid of torchlight. These canoes were operated by a four-man team, each man wearing eyeshades: one in the stern to keep the craft drifting broadside down the stream; one in the center holding the torch; and one on each side of the torch-man to attend to the spearing. This method was seldom used by the Lower Thompson because of the muddy condition of the river in their country. (Hill-Tout 1900:510; Ray 1942:112-113; Teit 1900:251-252)

Figure 3-3. Thompson fish spear with detachable points (Teit 1900:251 Figure 231).

A three-pronged spear, with two nondetachable wooden side points each armed with inside mountain-goat horn barbs, was also a Lower Thompson fishing device though it was not of great importance (Figure 3-4). It was used both for salmon and for smaller fish, largely in night torch fishing from river banks, from canoes, and in winter out on the ice. (Ray 1942:113)

Figure 3-4. Thompson three-pronged fish spear (Teit 1900:252 Figure 232).

Fish were speared or taken with hook and line through holes in the ice, though not often by the Lower Thompson (Ray 1942:110; Teit 1900:252-253). Hook and line angling was also practiced to some extent in warmer seasons.

Small sturgeon were taken by the Lower Thompson in the Fraser River with hook and line, both from the banks and from canoes. The hook of bone, large and heavy, was attached to a wooden shank and it, in turn, to a heavy bark line as much as 100 yards long. A stone sinker was fastened to the line about five feet above the hook. Salmon tail was the usual bait. (Teit 1900:253)

Among the Lower Thompson, hook and line fishing was practiced by boys for trout in a few creeks and by men for trout in mountain lakes when camped nearby hunting and digging roots. Salmon trout were taken with stout hooks, also baited with salmon tails, and Indian hemp lines with a stone sinker tied a few feet above the hook. The line was coiled and thrown out into the stream as far as possible and then hauled in to attract the fish. (Teit 1900:253-254)

Ray (1942:110-112) also reports the Lower Thompson use of small hooks, fashioned of two pieces of bone with a wooden shank and a sinker, for small fish and eels. Double-pointed, bone gorgets were likewise used for these minor fish. Worms, ant larvae, grasshoppers, fish eggs, and even squirrel meat served as bait.

Weirs of stakes lashed together were built by the Thompson in shallow streams to catch salmon. These stopped the fish in large numbers, allowing them to be speared. Traps were fashioned like a stick box or were a woven willow basket in cylindrical shape. The Lower Thompson, Teit (1900:254) remarks, rarely made use of either weirs or traps; Ray (1942:104-108) goes further: according to his data this downstream group made no use whatever of weirs, traps, or fish dams of any kind. The slight difference in these two statements is suggestive. It is conceivable that Teit was aware of the occasional employment of these devices by subsistence task parties in the higher elevations out of the canyon, concerning which Ray's informant appears to have been largely silent. Through the 1800s the Lower Thompson became increasingly more sedentary, a life pattern shift substantially less true of the Upper Thompson (Teit 1930b:216). Inasmuch as Teit secured his ethnographic data in the 1890s while Ray gathered his in the 1930s, it is reasonable to assume that the latter's informant was less likely to remember those activities of his Division that occurred outside the Fraser Canyon boundary when the group as a whole were following a freer and more mobile life style.

Salmon, among the Thompson, were slit along the belly with a knife with a curved stone blade and short handle, and the entrails and blood were removed. The backbone was separated but left attached to the flesh. When the flesh had been deeply scored, the fish was stretched and kept open with thin cross-sticks. It was then hung over a long pole to dry, backbone on one side and flesh on the other. About a hundred fish could be suspended from a single pole. (Teit 1900:234)

The Lower Thompson salmon preparation technique was slightly different as described by Ray and Hill-Tout -- or perhaps these differences were not group pattern distinctions but nothing more than variations at the level of individual women or villages, or in ways of handling fish at different seasons or under different weather conditions or according to the food to be prepared from the fish, or some other similar variable. At any rate, Ray (1942:135) reports that the Lower Thompson split the fish dorsally. Hill-Tout (1900:510) states that the women stood by to receive freshly taken salmon and at once killed them with a blow to the head, cut them open along the belly (as Teit reported above) with a knife of meat-chopper shape, wrenched off the head, removed the backbone (as Teit states was not the case), spread the two halves, and hung the fish to dry in an open, pole shed nearby on the river bank.

Once dry and hard, the salmon were removed from the drying pole, piled in heaps, and carried by the Lower Thompson for storage to the elevated wooden caches where they remained all winter. In the spring they were removed and placed in pit caches. The following spring they were taken out and aired, only perhaps to be returned to the caches for another year. In this way a reserve supply of salmon was kept for two or three years by most families for emergencies. Salmon heads were also dried and stored. Wrapped in dry grass or bark, salmon roe was buried until nearly rotten; roasted or boiled when later removed, the roe tasted rather like cheese. Salmon eggs were also dried by the Lower Thompson and buried in bark-lined pits. Salmon and large trout tails were roasted before a fire until crisp. (Ray 1942:135; Teit 1900:234-235, 236)

To make salmon oil, a number of fat salmon were placed in a pit, about 3 or 4 feet square and 2 feet deep, lined with stone slabs with cracks plastered with mud. Water was added and heated stones thrown in. Later the boiling mass was broken up and stirred with a stick. It was kept simmering until all the oil had been extracted. As the mixture cooled, the oil floated to the surface and was skimmed off and put in dried salmon-skin bags tied at each end. The boiled salmon flesh that remained was removed, squeezed, and put in baskets to be eaten at once or dried into cakes for later use. (Teit 1900:235)

The process of oil extraction is also described by Hill-Tout (1900:510-511), obviously from having witnessed the process. Although very similar in essentials to Teit's account, it differs in certain details and adds enough new information to warrant summary. Forty or fifty fish, he writes, were placed in a large trough hollowed out from a tree trunk with fire and adz. When rotten, the mass was covered with water; heated stones were put in; and the mixture was stirred to a hot pulp. The stones were removed and a small amount of cold water was added to cause the reddish oil to rise to the surface. This oil was skimmed off into birch-bark vessels with a spoon of wood or bighorn sheep horn. After standing overnight, the oil was reboiled and skimmed until quite clear. It was stored in bags made by peeling the skin from a whole salmon "as one draws off a tight-fitting glove," cleaning it with dry punk-wood, and rubbing it with deer or bighorn sheep suet. Turned right-side out again, the bags were filled with the oil and their mouths were fastened.

The salmon flesh remaining in the trough, to continue Hill-Tout's description, was kneeded into balls and sun-dried. Later it was squeezed, washed, rekneeded, and again dried. When quite dry and odorless, it was broken up and rubbed fine between the hands until like flour. Some of this flour was placed in the bottom of a birch-bark basket and on it was laid the skin sacks of oil. When the basket was filled with these bags, more salmon flour was spread over the top and down the sides, burying the bags. This food was stored for winter eating. (Hill-Tout 1900:511)

A kind of "butter" was also made as a great delicacy by boiling salmon oil with deer or, better, bighorn sheep kidney suet, thoroughly mixing the substance, and allowing it to cool, when it assumed the consistency of butter. This "butter" was eaten with compressed cakes of serviceberries or other berries. (Hill-Tout 1900:511)

The Lower Thompson celebrated the appearance of the first few chinook salmon with a special ritual. It was led by the village chief; the ceremonial position of "salmon chief" so important in other tribes did not exist among these Fraser Canyon people. The fish were prepared by the women and were eaten by men, women, and children, which was generally not the case elsewhere. It was considered important for the future salmon run for all of the fish and fish soup to be consumed on this occasion. (Ray 1942:115-116)

A rather more extended description of the first salmon ceremony of the Upper Thompson is given by Hill-Tout (1900:504), though not without, it appears, some considerable overformalization of the social and political structure, at least as it existed in traditional and early postcontact times. To summarize his account: When the salmon began to run, the "divisional chiefs" were informed. Messengers were sent to neighboring villages, calling on all people to attend the first salmon rite on an appointed day. When the day arrived and the people had assembled, the "head chief," attended by "lesser ones and the elders," initiated the ceremony with a long prayer. On its conclusion, everyone in attendance was given a bit of salmon specially cooked for this rite. When these pieces had been eaten ceremonially, all were permitted to eat as much as they wished. Singing and dancing in a circle followed, with hands held extended palms upward as in supplication. This same dance was performed again at noon and at sunset. This account tells us a bit about the ceremony, but more importantly it illustrates the cautions to be exercised in the use of much of Hill-Tout's data relating to the less material aspects of traditional Thompson culture.

Shellfish were considerable inedible: they were in fact abhorred (Teit 1900:348).

There is considerable ethnographic interest at present in the extent to which native hunting-gathering groups took positive action to maintain and even increase the food and other essential resources of their natural environment. In this context it is notable that the Thompson in traditional days followed the practice of taking live trout from lakes and streams and transplanting them into lakes where there were none. Sometimes these fish propagated and became plentiful. (Teit 1900:348)


The ethnographic data on hunting are rich and can only be summarized in this section.

Although the Lower Thompson had an abundance of fish, they "spent much time in hunting," considerably less, however, than the Upper Thompson. "They even hunted," Teit (1900:239) writes of high relevance to this present study, "on the mountains on the western slope of the Coast Range. Hunting-parties who visited the most southern part of their hunting-grounds were sometimes absent for seven months, returning only when the snow began to melt in the mountains." Apparently these southernmost grounds were those in the Skagit country north of the Canadian line and even south in the Ross Lake region, though Teit fails to locate them with this precision. They must, however, have fallen within the Lower Thompson tribal boundaries as these are demarcated on his territorial map (Figure 3-1). This is nicely confirmed by Teit's (1930b:257) subsequent data that the Lower Thompson hunted in the Cascades back of Hope and Chilliwack (i.e., in the Skagit country north of the Canadian border) where they met friendly Nicola hunting groups. And that they hunted and raided even "a long way [farther] south along the Cascades" (i.e., south of the international boundary in the Ross Lake Skagit region).

Skilled hunters among the Lower Thompson (no less than in the Upper Thompson bands) were esteemed. In fact, there were even men who specialized in hunting in spite of the great importance of salmon fishing to the group. (Ray 1942:123)

Before going out in search of game, a Lower Thompson hunter was expected to remain continent for a time. Sometimes he sweated in his sweat house, though this was not regarded as very important. Before actually leaving the village or camp, however, he customarily bathed in a somewhat ritual fashion. Apparently his wife was under no ritual behavioral restrictions. Nor were there prescriptions on how a deer was to be butchered, handled, cooked, eaten, and the bones disposed of, as was the case among many not distant tribes. In a group hunt, the meat was divided equally among the hunters. (Ray 1942:123,127-129)

Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, beaver, porcupine, hare (rabbit), and squirrels were secured in abundance by the Thompson, according to Teit (1900:230), and to a lesser degree lynx and coyote. The principal game of the Lower Thompson was mountain goat, black bear, and marmot. This Lower group also ate rock-rabbit, which the Upper people did not regard as proper food. Ray's (1942:46) roster differs in several details. Deer, he writes, were the most important game of the downstream division; black and grizzly bear and mountain goat were also hunted; bighorn sheep were occasionally secured; elk were of minimal significance. The points of noncorrespondence between the Teit and Ray lists are of particular interest in terms of this present study. Teit's catalog appears to indicate a widespread and significant use of the mountain hunting grounds away from the Fraser Canyon fishing and winter villages. On the other hand, Ray's listing, except for the mountain goat, suggests a primary focus upon hunting in the Fraser Valley and immediately adjacent higher areas. One might sensibly conclude that in the period between Teit's research and the field efforts of Ray, memory of hunting in the tall mountains, including especially those in the upper Skagit sector, had evidently faded significantly.

A number of animals mentioned elsewhere in this study as having been taken by the Thompson generally for various secondary purposes -- like clothing or ornamentation -- are missing from the above two lists. Among these are the cougar, fox, wolf, wolverine, and ermine. Presumably these essentially unimportant animals were also secured at times by Lower Thompson hunters. At any rate, they were not truly "game" or subsistence animals, those with which the above catalogs are basically concerned.

Birds -- particularly geese, ducks, and swans but also some land birds like grouse -- were hunted for their flesh. Others were sought for their feathers. The tail feathers of the golden eagle were highly valued, used for decorating headgear, hair, and weapons; those of the chicken-hawk were considered second best as adornment materials. (Ray 1942:117, 120; Teit 1900:367)

Bows and arrows were the principal hunting weapons (Figure 3-5). Among the Lower Thompson bows, narrow and 3 feet or somewhat more in length, were fashioned of hemlock, yew, syringa, serviceberry, or dogwood. In cross-section they were flat on the inside and rounded on the face away from the hunter. Better ones had glued to the face a layer of deer sinew to strengthen and increase the resiliency of the weapon, the glue of salmon skin. The center hand-grip was narrowed and wrapped with bird-cherry bark. The ends were recurved, notched, and sinew-wrapped. The string was of deer back-sinew, sometimes placed along the center line of the bow and sometimes to one side, or, when sinew was unavailable, was of Indian hemp. The entire bow was at times covered with snakeskin. Some bows were not given the sinew backing: e.g., those used in light shooting of birds and small game. The inner face of bows was often incised with designs filled with red paint, or adorned with dyed porcupine quill work, or fitted with red-headed woodpecker scalps at their tips. (Ray 1942:148-149; Teit 1900:239-241)

Figure 3-5. Five Thompson bow varieties (Teit 1900:240 Figures 216-220).

Arrows, of serviceberry or hawthorn wood or rosewood, were soaked in warm water, straightened with the teeth or over the knee, and polished with scouring rush or a sandstone shaft smoother. They were fitted with hawk, grouse, and sometimes eagle feathers: two or three split feathers attached spirally with deer sinew and pitch or with two whole feathers laid on flat. The Lower Thompson found stone for their arrow points near the headwaters of the Skagit River. Many points in traditional times were reflaked from the large points of earlier and unknown origin which the Lower Thompson found "in great numbers in the valleys." Hunting arrow points, of stone, were leaf-shaped and were fitted to the shaft at right angles to the nock. For small game the end of the arrow shaft was simply sharpened, and sometimes cut into barbs; some had detachable heads tied to the shaft with string. Bird arrows were blunt-headed. Arrows were often ornamented with simple painted patterns or branded with animal figures. War arrows bore barbed bone points that were detachable and "poisoned" with vegetable material or with rattlesnake venom. (Ray 1942:149-151; Teit 1900:241-243)

Quivers were of tanned deer skin, fringed and painted, or of "uncut hides" of coyote or wolverine, arranged so the tail hung down, or they were woven of sagebrush fibers. Some were fitted with small pouches to hold the fire drill and tinder. (Ray 1942:151-152; Teit 1900: 243-244)

Bows were ordinarily held horizontally in the shooting (Ray 1942:149; Teit 1900:241)

Every Thompson man had the right to hunt wherever he chose within the traditional tribal limits. There was no ownership of particular hunting grounds by band, villages, or families. As a practical matter, each band usually took its game in areas nearest its respective home villages, yet men frequently hunted, without being considered intruders, in sectors that were technically under the control of other villages or bands. (Teit 1900:293)

Most of our hunting information describes methods used in taking deer, the most important game among the Upper Division. Among the techniques employed were the following.

Deer were generally hunted with the bow and arrow, with dogs providing valuable assistance. When dogs were to be used, they were tied up for several days before the hunt, fed sparingly on good food, and sometimes even purged with medicines and sweat bathed. In one of the simplest procedures in which these animals were employed, the hunter left before daybreak -- perhaps carrying a few serviceberries to eat if he later felt exhausted -- with his dogs on halters. On seeing the tracks of some large buck, he freed his dogs to run the animals down and followed them as rapidly as possible. The dogs generally drove the deer to a stream, where, particularly in autumn, men in canoes were waiting to pursue the animal in the water and, with a stick with an end crook, to catch the antlers and force the head under the surface. When drowned, the deer was pulled ashore, skinned, and butchered. Often the dogs brought the deer to bay at a creek until the hunter arrived to dispatch it. (Hill-Tout 1900:508; Teit 1900:244-245)

During the rutting season and in winter after the deer had come down from the hills, the Upper Thompson -- and one may suppose the Lower Thompson also -- lay in wait for the animals at night at their regular swimming places. In summer both Upper and Lower Thompson hunters shot them by moonlight at their salt licks or drinking sites, the men having concealed themselves in shallow pits screened with bushes. (Ray 1942:117; Teit 1900:245)

To some degree -- though to a lesser extent than among the Upper Thompson -- the Lower Division took deer with a rough deer fence. At one time these fences were very numerous, even up in the mountains. Some were for summer use, but most were for taking the animals in the fall and early winter in little valleys or defiles between the mountains and where the deer gathered when descending the mountains to their winter grounds. These fences, seldom over 4 or 4.5 feet high, were constructed of poles, tree limbs, and the like placed close enough together to impede the animal's progress. They were sometimes more than a mile long. Every 100 yards or so, an obvious opening was left. In this was dug a shallow pit, over which sticks were placed to support a bark-string snare attached to a strong spring pole. On the ground nearby a log was laid so as to force the animals, in stepping over it, to place its foot in the noose. With its leg caught, the animal was jerked off the ground. This was a very successful hunting method, but curiously not much used by the Lower Thompson. (Hill-Tout 1900:508; Ray 1942:44; Teit 1900:246-247)

The Lower Thompson also set nooses on deer trails to catch the animal's head or antlers (Teit 1900:247).

Drives for deer were carried out by two or three men or even a much larger group. Walking a hundred or more yards from each other, they forced the animals ahead where they could be shot by concealed hunters. This method was especially successful in winter in gulches where the animals tended to yard. If the number of men was large, the hunt was directed by an especially experienced man who knew the ground well. If men were scarce, women and boys assisted in the drive task. Sometimes a large number of deer were killed. Generally the oldest hunter divided the game, each deer being cut into nine pieces. In a fat buck, the best part of the animal was considered to be "the fleshy and fatty part of the body between the skin and the bones." (Teit 1900:247-248) As Teit intimates, Ray (1942:117) reports that group drives were also organized to some degree in warm weather. These were under the direction of any good hunter (confirming Teit's statement), who assigned individual areas to the several men. The game was driven into water.

Deer were also caught in large mesh, Indian hemp nets, about 7 feet high and up to 200 yards long. These were set in the evening between clumps of bushes to form a corral open at one side on a deer trail. Generally some deer were found in the corral in the morning, unable to find their way out. (Teit 1900:248)

To be successful in taking deer as a lone Thompson hunter required close knowledge of the animals' habits and of the places frequented by them according to the season, and an ability to take advantage of cover, to track, and to shoot well. Sometimes single hunters in the mountains experienced much hardship and exposure.

Some of them would start out with cold weather in the winter-time, taking with them neither food nor other clothing than that which they wore. They lived entirely on what they shot, and used the raw deerskins for blankets. They made rough kettles of spruce-bark or deer's paunches. A hole was dug in the soft ground near the fire, into which the kettle was placed, with brush underneath. The open end was made small and stiff by means of a stick threaded through it around the edge; and the sides of the open end were sometimes fastened with bark to one or two cross-sticks which lay on the ground across the opening. Hot stones were put in to boil the food. These paunches were also sometimes used as water-pails. (Teit 1900:246)

In deep snow in the mountains deer and elk were run down by Thompson hunters on snowshoes and were shot or clubbed to death. They were also run down by dogs when the snow lay deeply on the ground and the crust was thick. Elk were driven over cliffs by large groups of men. Black bear were generally killed with the bow and arrow, sometimes with the aid of dogs, but they were also taken in deadfall traps. Male black bears could be hunted over a longer season than the females: the latter denned up when the leaves began to fall in autumn, while the males entered their winter quarters much later. Grizzlies were hunted by many younger men because of the great prestige afforded one who had killed such an animal single-handed. According to the Thompson, they were much less fierce in some parts of the country than in others. Tradition tells of a particularly courageous hunter of the mid-i 800s who is said to have hunted them by thrusting a double-pointed bone vertically in the animal's open mouth when it charged and then killing it with a stone club while it was desperately attempting to dislodge the bone upon which it had shut its jaws. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep were killed with bow and arrows. Beaver were sometimes taken with the aid of dogs and dispatched with a bone-tipped spear. Coyotes and foxes were dug or smoked out of their dens. Hares, squirrels, and grouse were shot with the bow and arrow or were caught in spring-pole snares of Indian hemp, set over their runs. (Teit 1900:248-249, 373)

With some explicit exceptions, the data of the preceding paragraphs describe hunting practices of the Thompson as a tribe and those of the Upper bands in particular. The extent to which they also apply to the Lower Division is not reported by Teit, though it may be assumed that most of these techniques, if not all, were likewise those of this downstream division on occasion. While the Upper people were plainly more generally hunting-oriented, Lower Thompson parties spent months pursuing game in the higher sectors of their territory and, as already observed, specialist hunters even existed within the division. Fortunately Ray (1942:116-124) provides hunting information for these downstream people specifically. I see no simple way of combining most of these data with those of Teit above without thoroughly muddying the description. The following summarizes this Ray residue material.

For the Lower Thompson Ray (1942:117-123,140) confirms the running down of animals on snow by men wearing snowshoes, the stalking of them with bow and arrows and occasionally with clubs, the taking of grizzlies by daringly placing a sharpened bone in their mouth, and the use of trained dogs in hunting deer and bear. He also reports certain fresh data. Deer and elk were called with whistles of elderberry wood and cottonwood wood and by blowing upon a leaf placed in the mouth. Hunters are reported to have crawled into a hibernating bear's hole, tied a rope around its neck, and dragged it out. Hibernating ground hogs and perhaps bears likewise were occasionally smoked out of their dens. Beaver were ritually spoken to and called out of their houses. If this strategem failed, their dams were destroyed and the animals were clubbed in their effort to escape, or the hunter crawled into the house to capture the animals. Their musk was taken for perfume and their kidney for medicine. Deer, mountain goats, and birds were all caught in spring-pole snares. For deer the nooses were suspended from tree limbs on trails and were also set at openings in fences. For grouse the Indian hemp snares were placed on their trails, at their "dancing" grounds, on logs, on top of knolls, and in openings in stone or brush fences. Baited deadfalls were constructed for large and small game. Eagles were attracted to a brush hut by fish bait and were taken by hand by the hunter concealed within the hut. Young eagles were also captured in their nest. Birds' eggs were collected by the Lower Thompson and were boiled for food.

Among the Lower Thompson, the hunting leader divided the fat, meat, and skins almost equally among the entire party, only the best hunters being given a little more fat and an extra skin or two. A single hunter who chanced to have especially good fortune returned to his village and invited his friends to help him carry his kill home and share in the meat and hides. Skins and meat of trapped animals belonged exclusively to the trapper. (Teit 1900:264-265)

How meat was prepared for immediate eating is not well described in the ethnographic accounts. Roasting before an open fire and stone-boiling were, however, common methods.

For later consumption the flesh, with fat removed, was cut into thin slices, pierced with holes or slits, and dried by sun and wind on a pole framework, often over a fire. Sometimes it was dried and smoked over the lodge fire or hung up near the roof to receive this treatment. Chunks of fat cut from deer, elk, or bear meat were run through with thin sticks, the ends of which were supported by forked sticks thrust into the ground, and a hot fire was kindled close-by. The drippings were caught in troughs of bark, wood, or stone. This melted fat was stored in a deer paunch. Larger bones were broken up and the marrow was melted and stored in deer or elk bladders. (Teit 1900:234)

The killing of a black or grizzly bear required a certain amount of special ceremonial attention on the part of the Lower Thompson hunter. He sang or talked to his kill, sometimes marched around the animal ceremonially, and wept for it. Certain parts of the body had to be removed at the kill site. The head was eaten with the rest of the meat and the skull was "set up," although how and where are not revealed by Ray's (1942:129) record.

There were among the Lower Thompson a number of meat tabus that applied to all or to special subsets within the social group. For example, no one could eat deer and salmon together. Nor could anyone eat coyotes, wolves, mink, crows, eagles, meadowlarks, reptiles, caterpillars, slugs, grasshoppers, yellowjacket larvae, frogs, and unlaid eggs of the magpie, crow, and certain other birds. Children were forbidden to eat the land otter. Female children were not permitted to eat blood, even if cooked, and the head of deer and mountain goats. Women were not allowed to eat the heart and kidneys of the game. (Ray 1942:130-131)

Plant Collecting

Roots, berries, seeds, shoots, stalks, and other vegetable foods were important in the diet of the Lower Thompson. The data assembled below are drawn primarily from Teit (1900) and Ray (1942) and are cultural in their focus. Additional Thompson food-use information together with a partly now outmoded botanical identification of the taxa in question can be found in Teit's (1930b:237-239) ethnographic study of the Okanagan group. A far more extended and botanically refined inventory of Thompson subsistence taxa and their edible components is assembled in the final section of this present chapter, that considering specifically the Lower Thompson utilization of the mountainous segment of their tribal territory, including the upper Skagit portion of the Park.


Roots comprised a significant part of the Thompson food supply. They were gathered in early summer and in fall, some in the dry valleys but most only in the high mountains. According to Teit, the principal roots obtained were "Indian potatoes" (spring beauty corms), tiger lily bulbs, wild onions, and the roots of the yellow avalanche lily, chocolate lily, wild sunflower, and cattail. Gathered also were a number of other local roots that are not identified in Teit's monograph of 1900 either by common English terms or taxonomically but only by their native Thompson names. According to Ray, the main food roots of the Lower Thompson were camas and bracken roots. The lack of correspondence between these two short lists of Teit and Ray may result from the fact that the former is speaking of the Thompson as a whole -- or probably more especially of the Upper Division -- and the latter of only the downriver segment of the tribe. More than 30 additional Thompson food roots are listed by Turner (1978; see below), but none appear to have been individually of great importance. Bitterroot were secured by the Lower people in their barter with the Upper Thompson. (Ray 1942:131; Teit 1900:231-232, 236)

Roots were uncovered by women with a digger consisting of a curving hardwood stick, sometimes charred at the point, fitted with a perforated cross handle of wood or deer antler. As they were loosened from the soil, they were tossed into a small back-basket, which, when full, was emptied into a large basket close-by. Nests of squirrels and mice were also robbed of their roots and seeds. (Ray 1942:145; Teit 1900:231)

The occasional fish stocking of the Thompson has already been commented upon. In a second way in old traditional times the tribe undertook to increase its native food resources: sometimes they set fire to the hillside woods to obtain a greater abundance of roots (Teit 1900:230).

The Thompson methods of pit-cooking roots are described ethnographically. Certain roots were roasted in the earth ovens: the varieties prepared by this method are not specified by Teit, but the roots of the wild sunflower and large, lily-like roots are mentioned in passing. The pit was circular, 2.5 feet deep, and of sufficient diameter to contain the roots to be prepared. Four or five large flat stones were placed on the pit floor, and on these was piled dry fir-wood with "a quantity of small stones" on top. This heap was then lighted and allowed to burn until nothing but embers remained and the small stones had failed to the pit floor. Unburned wood was removed, leaving the ashes and heated stones. These latter were covered with a thin layer of damp earth and this earth, in turn, was overlaid with branches of bushes 6 inches or more in depth. Then followed in succession a layer of broken fir branches, one of dry pine needles, and another of fir branches, nearly filling the pit. On top of this heap the roots were placed. Then came more layers: fir branches, pine needles, and again fir branches. Finally the pile was covered with earth and a large fire was kindled on top to burn for 12 to 24 hours. Wild sunflower roots, difficult to cook, remained in the oven for two days. One of the great advantage of this root-cooking method was that large quantities of roots could be prepared at one time. (Teit 1900:236-237)

In regard to the above, it is worth noting that the roots were dry and that the bush-branches that formed the stratum above the thin damp-earth level are not described as having been fresh and moist, though they may have been. Further, as the following makes evident, no water was introduced into the pile. This cooking process was a dry roasting rather than steam-roasting combination, with presumed implications for the methods of preparing the roots further once they were removed from the oven and for the nutritional properties of the final foods.

The steam-roasting of roots, however, was also a Thompson practice: many roots and the black tree lichen were pit-steamed. Before the branches were placed in the pit, a stick was pushed vertically into the pit bottom to reach above the top of the final pile. The pile itself was constructed as in the preceding description. When the heap was completed, the stick was pulled out, water was poured down the resulting hole, and steam was formed as it struck the hot stones. "When sufficiently steamed, the usual fire was kindled on top." (Teit 1900:237) This method is of interest in its own right because it apparently involved the sequence of two cooking procedures, not a single steam-roasting combination from beginning to end as common elsewhere in the Plateau.

Ray's (1942:137-138) description of this cooking process as practiced by the Lower Thompson is in essential agreement with the above. Still, its minor differences as well as its points of coincidence are not without interest, especially in an archaeological context. According to Ray's informant, the pit was 18 inches deep; the fire was burned with the rocks; the basal layer over the heated stones was of serviceberry leaves or spruce or pine needles or grass; this stratum was covered with earth; the food came next; this was spread with rye grass or occasionally spruce bark or cottonwood leaves; finally came the earth covering and the fire on top of the pile. When camas and lichen were being cooked, water was poured into the pile.

Roots were sometimes flavored by pit-cooking them with other plants: wild onions with leaves and flowers of the hummingbird plant; wild sunflower roots with penstemon flowers; and other roots with flowers and stems of wild strawberries. (Ray 1942:138; Teit 1900:237)

Men were not permitted to participate in the process of pit-cooking roots (Hill-Tout 1900:513), a practice also observed elsewhere among Plateau groups.

Roots, apparently sometimes raw and certainly on other occasions after having been cooked, were threaded on grass or bark string and hung up to dry (Teit 1900:235, 236-237)


Berries and other fruit were important Lower Thompson foods. Native forms that were eaten include the serviceberry (six different varieties were recognized by the tribe), whortleberry, gooseberry, swamp gooseberry, soapberry, Oregon grape, chokecherry (two varieties), bird cherry, salmon berry, raspberry, black raspberry, strawberry, currant, bearberry, elderberry, high-bush cranberry, hawthorn berry (two varieties), salal-berry, rose hips, and the berries of the dogwood and mountain ash. Other berries that have not been identified botanically were also collected as food by the Lower Thompson. (Ray 1942:133-134; Teit 1900:231, 232-233) Several other berries, all comparatively unimportant as foods, are mentioned by Turner (1978; see below) as traditional Thompson fruit foods.

Serviceberries, huckleberries, and other berries were spread on mats and sun dried. Or, fresh, they were baked into cakes and placed in cedar-root or birch bark baskets and stone-boiled. When the berries had cooled, the cooking stones were removed and the berries were mashed with a stick or kneeded with the hands and then spread on a layer of pine needles, leaves, or dry grass on a pole frame to dry in the sun and wind. The juice in the basket was poured over the drying berries, which were formed into cakes. Some of the extra juice was drunk. (Ray 1942:139; Teit 1900:235-236)

A "first-fruits" ceremony was celebrated in every population grouping before berries could be gathered (Teit 1930b:290-291).

Minor Plant Foods and Masticatories

Stalks of the cow parsnip ("wild rhubarb"), peeled stems of balsamroot ("wild sunflower"), and sprouts of fireweed and bracken and of various plants of the raspberry, blackcap, and thimbleberry group contributed to the Thompson diet. Other shoots and stems that responded in some measure to food requirements are recorded by the ethnobotanist Turner (1978, see use of the Park section below), who also adds information regarding other food substances in the following paragraphs.

Seeds were eaten by the Thompson to some extent. An itemized listing of these plant parts collected and used as food is not provided in the ethnographic accounts. It is stated, however, that chokecherry pits were consumed for their subsistence content, an interesting bit of information since, according to Turner (1978:194), these stones contain toxic cyanide. To a minor degree pine seeds were eaten, as were seeds of the balsamroot, these latter mixed with deer grease and stone-boiled. Balsamroot seeds appear to be reported specifically as a Lower Thompson food. Hazelnuts were certainly a Lower Division food, although these folk secured their supply through barter from the Halkomelem downriver and from their Upper Thompson congeners who collected them in large quantities (Turner 1978:126).

The cambium layer of the black and yellow pine, spruce, balsam-fir, Douglas spruce, and cottonwood was "sought after in spring." To secure this sweet substance from between the bark and wood, the bark was separated from the tree with a piece of horn or wood and this edible layer was scraped off with a sharpened bone or wooden implement. It is unclear whether the bark inner surface or the tree was scraped. In any event, the material was collected in a basket and generally eaten fresh. Still, that obtained from the yellow pine was not infrequently dried and stored for later consumption, and this may have been the case sometimes for cambium derived from other tree taxa.

A sugary crystalline substance that accumulated on some Douglas-fir needles and branches in drier parts of the country was also enjoyed by the Thompson whenever it could be found (Turner 1978:64; cf. Teit 1930b:239, fn. 5 for the Okanagan).

Mushrooms of several kinds were gathered, peeled, and eaten either raw or after having been slightly roasted. The black tree lichen was much eaten by the Lower Thompson.

Teas were brewed from various plant branches, twigs, needles, seeds, berries, bark, leaves, stems, and even flowers. Specific information on these drinks is provided in the Turner food plant inventory below.

While not food substances at least from the Thompson perspective, it is of interest in fully comprehending the Thompson utilization of the resources of their natural environment that western larch (tamarack) gum and the latex of hawkweeds were chewed for enjoyment. (Ray 1942:131-132, 139; Teit 1900:233, 237)

Food Preparation

In the preceding sections the preparation of certain foods has been described. Meat, berries, and roots were often mixed, however, in various ways and combinations. The preparation of these "combination foods" and more general information regarding the making of edibles suitable for consumption are dealt with here.

Several important methods of cooking food were in general use. In addition to pit-cooking of roots of various kinds and lichen in the earth-oven as already described, some foods were stone-boiled in coiled baskets, stirred with carefully smoothed maple sticks or occasionally with sticks cut into paddle shape. Some times among the Lower Thompson dugout wooden containers -- even canoes -- were used in place of the boiling baskets. The hot stones were handled with wooden tongs, two flat sticks held one in each hand. Two boiling containers -- certainly baskets but presumably other vessels likewise -- were customarily used, "one containing water for washing off any dirt that might adhere to the heated stones, and the other for holding the food." Stone-boiling was also accomplished among the Lower Thompson by placing the meat and water in a stomach case hung over a fire; presumably this was largely an expedient of hunters and traveling parties, though Ray does not so state. To prevent salmon from falling to pieces in the boiling process, the fish was tied up in a birch bark wrapping. Spoons, ladles, and other utensils used in meal serving and eating are described below.

Meat was twisted around inclined spits and roasted in front of the fire. Various foods were roasted under ashes or in the underground ovens. Some of these methods have already been referred to.

Meat and berry mixtures were popular, with roots sometimes playing their role in the combinations. For example, dried venison and dried berries were pounded together with a stone pestle, mixed with hot deer grease, fashioned into cakes, and put away in sacks or wrapped in skin or bark. Pulverized deer or elk meat was cooked with bear oil and berries. Deer blood, a favorite food, was mixed with roots, berries (e.g., kinnikinnick), and deer fat and boiled. Soups were made with broken bones and kinnikinnick berries. Salmon roe and bearberries together were boiled in water in which salmon or trout had been prepared. Salmon eggs were likewise cooked with kinnikinnick berries or serviceberries. Salmon, soaked in water until half-decayed, were cooked with berries and roots. Floury roots (generally bitterroot) and serviceberries were boiled together, sometimes with black tree lichen, and the resulting soft, thick mixture was eaten with a little deer grease. (Hill-Tout 1900:512; Ray 1942:135, 136-138,139,141-142,144; Teit 1900:203, 236)

Food oil was obtained by the Lower Thompson by boiling salmon bones and sometimes bear bones. Of archaeological significance is the fact already referred that this oil-boiling process was at times carried out in a pit in the ground. (Ray 1942:139)

Water was carried by the Lower Thompson in tightly coiled baskets woven of willow materials and in birch bark containers. As a temporary expedient, it was carried in a deer or mountain-goat stomach case. In preparing food, stone mortars or more commonly flat grinding slabs were used by the Lower Thompson. Spool-shaped stone pestles and wooden pounding mauls were important tools in food processing and wooden pestles of the potato-masher variety were employed in crushing berries. Berries were also mashed in the hands. (Ray 1942:140,143)

The liquid in which meat or fish had been boiled was drunk with the meal; water itself rarely accompanied meals. Drinks of the tea sort were also created from a number of plant parts, including dried stalks and leaves of wild celery, of the rose bush, of the bearberry, and, at least in the postcontact period, of "Labrador tea," a plant of the heather family also called "Hudson's Bay tea," "swamp tea," and by a number of other local terms. Fir twigs were also dried by the Thompson and "used for preparing drinks." Serviceberry bark was brewed by the Lower people to make a tea-like drink. (Ray 1942:132; Teit 1900:233; Turner 1978:147)

In Lower Thompson country foods were eaten off the ground, covered in summer with grass and at other seasons with bark or cattail or tule mats spread on the dwelling floor. People at the meal squatted beside the ground cover. Liquids were served in the baskets in which the food had been cooked and were either eaten directly from these baskets or poured into small bark cups. Among the Lower Thompson, fish and roots were served in wooden trays or in basketry or occasionally birch or cedar bark dishes. Long-handled spoons, many large, were made of alder, maple, cottonwood, or birch wood and also of bighorn sheep horn. Short-handled spoons were fashioned of a deer skull-cap. Temporary spoons were created of a piece of birch bark. Ladles were fashioned of horn or wood. Napkins were of cedar bark. (Hill-Tout 1900:512; Ray 1942:140-142, 176; Teit 1900:199, 202)

When winter provisions were exhausted, a person in need was compelled to go begging in a ritualized manner. Wearing a dogskin blanket, rolled dogskins around his legs, and a birch bark mask painted black, to which horsehair whiskers and hair had been glued, he went to an underground dwelling known to have a food supply with a basket on his back. Inside, he danced, grunting, and received food gifts in his basket. (Teit 1900:299)


In this section are marshalled three sets of data, all concerned with material culture of the Thompson. The first considers the generation, the tending, and the uses of fire as a medium of technology in its broadest sense. The second brings together information on the various natural materials employed in technological processes, on the processes themselves, and on the cultural objects produced through the manipulation of these materials by these processes. The third describes the end products of an important segment of traditional Thompson technology, those artifacts that mediated between the individual and his natural environment and at the same time provided one of the few media in Thompson life for the visual expression of esthetic interests: clothing and ornamentation.

Fire Generation and Uses

Fire was kindled by the Thompson with a fire drill. One long dried stick of black-pine root or various woods was rotated smartly between the palms in a notch in a second dry stick. This latter piece was also side-notched from the top pit, so the incandescent wood fragments could fall down on the tinder of dry grass, shredded sagebrush bark, or cedar bark. Once the tinder was smoking, it was carefully blown to a blaze. (Teit 1900:203, 205)

With a "slow-match" rope of cedar bark, fire was carried from place to place in a basket or wrapped in green bark. Sometimes it remained lighted in the bundle for as long as two days. (Ray 1942:143-144; Teit 1900:205)

Fire served a number of functions essential to, or at a minimum of importance to, the traditional life patterns of the Thompson. Beyond its critical contributions in cooking foods for immediate consumption and smoking! drying them for future eating and in warming dwellings, fire was put to use, for example, in:

  • Felling trees for various purposes.
  • Shaping canoes and large "kitchen" utensils like dishes and serving trays.
  • Group-hunting game by surround and driving techniques.
  • Burning wild root grounds to make future crops more abundant.
  • Smoking skins to be fabricated into clothing or to serve other functions.
  • Charring the distal ends of the stick tools used by women in digging roots.
  • Lighting dwellings during the dark hours.
  • Warning friendly groups, through signal fires on heights, of the presence in the area of hostile raiding parties.
  • Burning enemy dwellings in raids against enemy groups.

Traditional Plateau ethnographies devote little attention to the importance and uses of fire; and where some data on the subject are recorded, they are ordinarily scattered through much of the text. Accordingly, many uses of fire, including obvious and significant ones, are not noted in the literature. To illustrate: surely fire was generally called upon to dry wet clothing, but Teit, I believe, fails to mention the matter. A full and careful survey of such fire data for a single group where the ethnographic information is relatively full would, in my estimation, be a worthwhile exercise.

Technological Processes and Artifact Material Types

Here the material culture objects of the Thompson -- tools, implements, utensils, etc. -- are discussed from the perspective of the materials from which they were fabricated, with attention wherever data exist to the processes by which they were fashioned and to the uses to which they were put. Thus there are individual sections focused upon objects of stone, of wood, of plant materials, of materials of animal origin, and so on. This approach is most successful from a data-manipulating viewpoint in considering object types that were fashioned of only one or two kinds of material and served their purposes in several rather different functional contexts. Wedges, for instance, are a case in point: they were fashioned either of wood or antler and served important wood-working functions in constructing dwellings, canoes, and a variety of other objects. To present descriptive wedge data in each of these activity domains would result in unacceptable redundancy. This approach to the data is least appropriate where objects were employed wholly or largely in a single specific cultural context: Thompson bows and arrows, for example, are merely noted in this section, being described in association with hunting practices, the arena of their principal use.

The inventory is imperfect in several ways. The above two schemes of reporting result in a scattering of technological data through the report, a deficiency only partly compensated for by a bare-bones listing of these dispersed descriptions in this section. Essential fabrication and use data for objects are often not to be found in the ethnographic literature. In the interests of space control, especially rich ethnographic information -- like that on clothing -- is necessarily summarized. Moreover, in the time available, it has been impossible to collect here all relevant technological materials scattered through Thompson ethnographic reports and even all to be found in this present study. As a consequence, the artifact catalog that follows must be considered very preliminary. It would appear, however, that, especially as a resource aid to archaeological research, a full artifact inventory of this kind might be worthwhile. Except as otherwise indicated, the data in this section are drawn from the detailed ethnographic study by Teit (1900:182-191), where illustrations of many objects can be found.

Implements and utensils of stone, bone, and wood were manufactured by men; those of skins and flexible plant materials and animal hair were made by women.

Stone Artifacts

Only two sources of stone used by the Thompson in the making of artifacts have been uncovered in the ethnographic literature. One was near the headwaters of the Skagit River. The other consisted of large "points" made and left by an earlier, unknown people. These were found in large numbers by the Thompson and were reworked by them into the shapes they desired. (Teit 1900:241)

Stone was battered into shape, flaked with an antler tool, and cut with "gritstone" and beaver teeth. Even "jade" and "serpentine" are reported to have been cut with "gritstone." Stone grinding and polishing were uncommon, although "steatite" pipes were polished with Equisetum stems -- -horsetail or scouring rush according to Hitchcock and Cronquist (1981:43) -- and a mixture of grease and black pine pitch. (Teit 1900:182)

Stone tools included the following forms:

  • Scrapers. Used in removing the fatty substance from the inside of hides. Also used in beating skins, stretched on a rectangular pole frame, to soften them; this scraper was fitted to a 3 or 4 foot wooden handle and so may be a different implement from that employed in defleshing skins. (Teit 1900:184)

    Figure 3-6. Thompson stone hammers (Teit 1900:183 Figures 120, 121).

  • Hammers or mauls with enlarged ends of the "potato masher" type (Ray 1942:146; Teit 1900:183) (Figure 3-6). Used in driving antler wedges.
  • Cobbles, apparently unshaped. Used as hammers in the initial, very rough shaping of boulders into blanks for arrow points. Hard stones were then used to trim off the edges of the blank in the next stage of the process. A hammerstone -- surely not of the "potato masher" variety -- was then employed to strike off large flakes. (Teit 1900:182)
  • Clubs with flat sides. Used like hammers in driving wedges. (Teit 1900:183)
  • Flat river rocks, used as pile drivers. (Ray 1942:146)

    Figure 3-7. Stone "axe" (Teit 1900:183 Figure 122). Though keyed in the text to flaked "axes" of jade and serpentine, this celt appears to have received a smooth grinding finish.

  • Flaked axes of "jade" and serpentine (Teit 1900:183). Said to be illustrated by Figure 3-7, but this celt appears to have been given a final grinding and polishing. Used in canoe making.
  • Flaked axes of "jade" and serpentine. Hafted among the Upper Thompson as shown in Figure 3-8 and among the Lower Division to a D-shaped wooden handle of a Vancouver Island type (Figure 3-9). (Ray 1942:146; Teit 1900:183) Used in canoe shaping.

    Figure 3-8. Upper Thompson stone aze hafted to the handle (Teit 1900:183 Figure 123).

    Figure 3-9. D type stone adz handle of Lower Thompson (Teit 1900:183 Figure 124). Arrows added to show surface against which blade was hafted.

  • Chisels socketed into a wooden handle. Used in canoe building. (Ray 1942:147; Teit 1900:183)
  • Flaked knives with a concave working edge and a straight, short wooden handle. Used for cutting and carving, and for scraping cedar roots for making coiled baskets.
  • Flaked drills of glassy basalt fitted with wooden or antler handles.
  • Small bowls of steatite and other stone. Used to hold red ocher and perhaps other paints. Scarce among the Thompson and probably not made by them.
  • Large carved stone vessels. Used to catch oil drippings and in grinding tobacco leaves, berries, etc. (Figure 3-10). (Teit 1900:49, 184, 202)

    Figure 3-10. Large stone vessels, used in catching oil drippings and in grinding tabacco leaves, berries, and the like: A. representing a frog; B. depression with a snake coiled around it. (Teit 1900:202 Figures 153, 154).

  • Large flat stones. Used in grinding dried meat and berries (Teit 1900:202).
  • Arrow points fashioned from workable stone in a series of steps. A boulder was reduced in size with a cobble hammerstone. The resulting blank was trimmed with a hard stone, chipped with a hammerstone, and finally pressure-flaked with an antler tool. (Teit 1900:182)

Artifacts of Wood

Wood was the basic material of a number of traditional tools and utensils. These included:

  • Mallets fashioned of a piece of tree trunk with attached branch to serve as handle. Used in driving antler wedges in working wood.
  • Wedges of yew wood.
  • Needles (Teit) and/or awls (Ray) used in sewing skins.
  • Root diggers employed in uncovering the small trailing roots of the cedar needed in making coiled basketry.
  • Among the Lower Thompson, square boxes and buckets bent of wood as on the coast, taking the place of the woven baskets of the Upper Division.
  • Pestles for mashing berries and driving wedges.
  • Cooking stirrers, tongs, serving trays, and spoons (Figures 3-11, 3-12).

    Figure 3-11. Lower Thompson wooden tray, 24.5 inches long (Teit 1900:202-203 Figure 155).

    Figure 3-12. Wooden spoons: A. 18 inches long; B. 9 inches in length (Teit 1900:203 Figures 156, 157).

  • Wooden dishes hollowed from a block of wood with stone, bone, or beaver-tooth chisels. (Hill-Tout 1900:512)
  • Handles for axes, adzes, scrapers, knives, chisels, and drills.
  • Troughs to catch drippings from chunks of animal fat, heated by a hot fire.
  • Dugout canoes of cedar and pine logs.
  • Canoe paddles. (Ray 1942:145, 147; Teit 1900:183-187, 202, 203, 204, 234)

Antler, Horn, and Tooth Artifacts

Figure 3-13. Thompson antler wedge (Teit 1900:183 Figure 119).

Antler was likewise a technologically useful material. Pieces of deer and elk antler were made into wedges which, driven with hammerstones or stone clubs, served to fell trees and to do much of the rougher splitting and cutting work in wood (Figure 3-13).

Figure 3-14. Antler arrow flaker ornamented with dot-and-circle pattern (Teit 1900:182 Figure 118).

Forked segments of antlers, with one tine longer and round-pointed and the other shorter and sharp, were used in the final flaking of arrow points; the long blunt point took off the larger flakes and the shorter, sharper tine removed the smaller flakes (Figure 3-14).

Antler fragments were used in hafting some stone drills, knives, and chisels: the piece was first softened by being boiled and then the stone tool was driven into its end; when dried, the antler core became so hard and firm that no lashing or gum was required to fix the stone permanently in place.

With "horn" artifacts there are problems. Ray consistently used the term "horn" to cover both antler and horn; Teit sometimes does the same. Consequently, the following artifacts may have been of antler rather than of horn as the reports state. "Horn" chisels were used in dehairing buckskins for clothing and in woodworking. "Horn" needles were put in use in sewing skins. (Hill-Tout 1900:512; Ray 1942:145; Teit 1900:182, 183, 185, 186)

Beaver tooth blades were used as engravers, and beaver tooth chisels served more generally in working wood. Mounted beaver teeth found service as cutting and carving knives, even cutting "jade" and serpentine. (Hill-Tout 1900:512; Ray 1942:147; Teit 1900:182)

Bone Artifacts

Bone was sharpened and polished with "gritstone" and sand or with stems of Equisetum (horsetail or scouring rush) (Teit 1900:184).

Bone chisels were sometimes used to remove the hair from buckskins that were to be fashioned into clothing; they were also employed in wood working. A drawknife-shaped tool made of a deer ulna or more recently a horse rib, somewhat sharpened, was used to scrape the fleshy tissue from the inner surface of skins (Figure 3-15). The ends of this flesher were covered with sagebrush and skin to create padded hand grips. (Teit 1900:185)

Figure 3-15. Bone tool used by the Thompson in fleshing skins. Ends were wrapped to serve as handles. (Teit 1900:185 Figure 129).

Bone needles were used in sewing skins (Teit 1900:186). Whether these were true eyed needles is not made clear. Ray (1942:147) reports for the Lower Thompson sewing awls -- clearly without eyes -- made of the leg bone of deer and bear.

Pieces of bone, preferably of bear, were used as incising tools. The bone was notched, placed vertically against a bone object, and rotated so as to decorate it with a central dot and circumscribed circle pattern. (Teit 1900:183; see arrow flaker, Figure 3-14)

Bone awls, fashioned by splitting and pointing a deer long-bone, were used to split the small trailing roots of the cedar into strips for making baskets and in the coiling process itself to split the coil below to allow the stitching element to pass through it (see coiled baskets below for this weaving technique) (Teit 1900:187).

Bone hooks of various sizes were made to catch fish from sturgeon down to small fish and eels. Bone gorgets were likewise used in taking small fish. (Ray 1942:110-113; Teit 1900:252)

Spoons fabricated of the skull-cap of a deer and provided with a short handle were used in the cooking-eating context (Figure 3-16) (Teit 1900:203 Figure 158).

Figure 3-16. Short-handled spoon made of deer skull-cap (Teit 1900:203 Figure 158).

Artifacts of Fibrous Materials

Woven baskets, fabricated exclusively by women and girls, were important utensils among the Lower Thompson. Whether they also made bark baskets is unclear (see later Artifacts of Other Materials section). Without question, however, like the Chilcotin and Lillooet to the west and northwest and "a number of tribes inhabiting the Cascade Mountains, in . . . Washington," the Lower Division fashioned coiled basketry of split cedar roots (Thuja gigantea, which I take to be T. plicata [Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:59]). Finger-sized roots were dug and buried in the ground to keep fresh until needed. Then they were uncovered, peeled or scraped, and hung up to dry. Later, in the weaving process, the roots were first split into long strips with a bone awl.

[Pieces of] the desired width and thickness throughout their entire length are used for stitching purposes, while the others which split irregularly, or are too short or too thin . . . are put together in bundles of about a dozen each, to form the coils. In weaving, these are kept continuous and of uniform thickness by adding fresh pieces as required, and the whole is covered by whip-stitching with the long regular pieces of splint already mentioned. The coils are laid around, one on top of another, and stitched over and under, commencing at the bottom of the basket. . . . With each stitch the awl is made to split part of the splint whipped around the lower coil. The bottom of the basket is made either of coils worked in the ordinary manner, or of thin pieces of wood stitched over. Most of these baskets are water-tight. (Teit 1900:187-188; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:511-512)

This coiling process is illustrated in Figure 3-17 (Underhill 1945:103). According to Hill-Tout (1900:511), the roots, before being woven into the basket, were sometimes dyed red with alder bark or black by being soaked in black slime or mud.

Figure 3-17. Technique of weaving a coiled basket (from Underhill 1945:103).

A. The weaver, a Coast Salishan Duwamish woman, holds the cedar-splint warp in her left hand while the right pushes the awl through the completed warp below to make an opening for the soft stitching weft.

Diagram of the horizontal warp and vertical sewing element. Left: end view of warp bundles and sewing stich. Right top: horizontal warps with sewing stitch before being tight. Right bottom: appearance of the finished basket.

Baskets were also manufactured with "thin pliable strips of cedar-sap or other wood . . . used as coils instead of the bunches of split roots." These were stitched with the same materials and in the same way as the cedar-root baskets, but were less strong and durable and not water-tight.

Baskets were ornamented by a technique known as false embroidery, involving "hooking in strips of grass and bark with the stitches, so that they cover the latter on the outside only" (Figure 2-3). The grass employed was long, very smooth, glossy, and either yellow-white or, if previously beaten on a skin or mat with diatomaceous earth, white in color. The bark was chokecherry, either left in its "natural light reddish-brown color, or . . . dyed [dark brown or even black] by being buried in damp earth." (Teit 1900:188)

Large, open-work baskets of cedar twigs were also fashioned. The rim was made "by forming a coil out of the upper, free ends of the twigs, and whipping it with another long twig" (Figure 3-18). These, unknown among the Upper Thompson, were like such baskets made on the Coast. (Teit 1900:188)

Figure 3-18. Thompson open-work basket.
A. Complete basket (Teit 1900:202 Figure 148). B. Detail showing horizontal wefts, vertical warps and technique of finishing rim (Teit 1900:189 Figure 131b).

Rigid twined baskets with round bottoms were also manufactured of willow bark by the Lower Thompson. At least some of these were employed as storage containers. (Ray 1942:159-161)

Baskets and bags of many kinds, shapes, and sizes were used by the Thompson for storage, carrying objects, cooking, and so on. Large oblong baskets were for storing food and clothing (Figure 3-19 A); conical ones for carrying things (3-19 D); nut-shaped ones for holding water (3-19 B); round ones for stone-boiling food; and ones with flat backs to hang against posts or walls for holding pipes and tobacco and fishing gear (Figure 3-19 C). Among the Lower Thompson they were woven of cedar roots as already noted; among the Upper Division, they were more commonly of birch and other bark. Large, open-work cedar-twig baskets served the Lower Thompson in carrying fish. (Teit 1900:199-201)

Figure 3-19. Four Thompson basket types.
A. Oblong basket for storing food and clothing (Teit 1900:200 Figure 143).
B. Round or nut-shaped basket for holding water (Teit 1900:201 Figure 145).
C. Flat-backed basket, placed against dwelling posts or walls, for holding small objects (Teit 1900:201 Figure 146).
D. Conical carrying basket (Teit 1900:200 Figure 144).

Bags, generally softer than the baskets and varying in size from small to large, were fashioned of matting -- also of bark and hides (both stiff and dressed) -- by folding the piece of material over and sewing up the sides with buckskin. These were used for storage, carrying provisions, and in other ways. Grass bags were ornamented with dyed grasses. Teit (1900:199-203) provides excellent illustrations of additional basket and bag types.

Figure 3-20. Corners of three Thompson mats showing different weaving styles.
A. Large bulrush mat used as dwelling covering (Teit 1900:189 Figure 131c).
B. Small bulrush and grass mat used as floor covering and "table mat". (Teit 1900:189 Figure 131d).
C. Small "table mat" of bulrushes (Teit 1900:189 Figure 131e).

Tule and bulrush mats of various types were evidently made by the Lower Thompson, as they certainly were by the Upper people. These were sewed or woven together with bark twine made of dogbane (Indian hemp, Apocynum cannabinum), which was secured by the Lower group in trade. The fiber was shredded and cleaned by being pulled over the sharp edge of a board, and was made into two-ply cordage by being twisted on the thigh. (Ray 1942:163; Teit 1900:188-190)

Large dwelling mats were fashioned of reeds or rushes set in a long parallel row held together by a dogbane bark cord run through them at several places along their length (Figure 3-20 A). A rosewood stick was placed at each end of the mat as a strengthening element, and bark twine bound the reed or rush ends together to secure them in place. (Teit 1900:188)

Lodge floor mats and eating mats of reeds and rushes were twined with warps of two-strand dogbane bark strings and with wefts of grasses of different colors to create ornamental patterns (Figure 3-20 B). Other table mats and even bags were fashioned of tule or bulrushes held side by side by paired twining elements of dogbane twine or twine of "Elaeagnus argentea" (i.e., E. commutata, silverberry or wolf-willow [Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:302]) (Figure 3-20 C) (Teit 1900:188, 190).

Mats were likewise woven in simple checkerboard fashion of cedar-bark strips, as on the Coast (Ray 1942:160,163; Teit 1900:190).

Threads intended for weaving were prepared from dogbane or from milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) as described above for the former material. Nettle was used when neither of those materials was at hand. Rectangular bags and round bags, some with constricted necks, were woven of warps and wefts of two-strand twine, often with selvage edges of skin strips. Pouches were woven like the large floor and eating mats mentioned above. Sagebrush socks were woven by the same paired twining-element technique as the table mats and bags mentioned in the matting section above. (Teit 1900:189-190)

Nets were made of dogbane bark thread; the meshes were kept uniform in size with a wooden netting stick (Teit 1900:191).

Hide Artifacts

Skins were used by the Thompson for clothing, bedding, bags, and the like. Especially important were those of deer and elk, but the skins of bear, wolf, coyote, lynx, fox, marmot, hare, and marten were likewise put to service.

Methods of processing skins varied with the animal, with the use to which the skin was to be put, with the season and even with the weather at the time (e.g., whether warm or cool, when small fires sometimes had to be kindled to hasten the drying process; whether breezy or calm), and doubtless to some degree with the availability of processing materials, the skill and personal preferences of the processor, and other variables. Owing to these complexities and the fact that skin working methods involved multiple tool use and might reasonably be supposed to have left archaeological traces in some instances, much of Teit's (1900:184-187) data are summarized here.

These data also illustrate in summary fashion the richness of certain components of the Thompson culture and one of the significant contributions of women to the group's successful adaptation to their biophysical environment.

Buckskin intended for clothing had the hair removed with a stone scraper or a bone or "horn" (antler?) chisel; hides to be used as robes and blankets were allowed to retain their hair. The skins were then dried and the fatty tissue was taken from the inner surface with a stone scraper. This inner surface was next thoroughly rubbed with decomposed deer brains, marrow from larger bones, or oil obtained by boiling salmon heads until the skins were soft, pliable, and oily. When dried, they were stretched on a rectangular four-pole frame and beaten or pounded until soft with a sharpened stick or a stone scraper with a long wooden handle. (Teit 1900:184-185)

Some skins -- often those to be made into moccasins -- were treated on both sides in a process of special significance to archaeologists. They were "smoked on a framework of bent sticks, the ends of which... [were] inserted in the ground near the edge of a hole about a foot and a half in depth, and not much more than a foot in diameter" (Teit 1900:185). The fire was of rotten wood: fir bark mixed with dry ponderosa pine cones was considered best but sagebrush was frequently used; if a dark color was desired, juniper (Juniperus virginiana) was added to the fire. An old blanket was spread over the frame to keep the smoke in and the air out. Smoking was thought to reduce shrinkage when the skin became wet.

When a glossy appearance was favored as in gloves, the skin was left in water until the hair could be pulled off but the cuticle remained. These skins were never smoked. (Teit 1900:186)

The following illustrate further variations in the above processing procedures:

(a) The skin was soaked in water for several days. It was then thrown over a peeled, smooth log inclined against a tree -- often with the tree bark notched to secure the upper end -- and a scraper of a deer ulna or horse rib, slightly sharpened, was employed to peel away the fatty tissue. The hair and cuticle were removed from the outside in the same manner. When dried, it was smoked and then soaked again in a basket of water. After a day or more, it was rolled lengthwise with dry grass, and wrung dry with one end fastened with a rope around a log and the other to a stick which was turned. Next it was stretched on a frame and pounded until dry and soft as noted above and then smoked once more.

(b) Fawnskins were generally spread over the knee and softened by scraping with a sharp stone or scraper.

(c) Skins were sometimes tanned in a decoction of birch (Betula papyrifera).

(d) The process of rubbing a skin with brains was thought by many women to make subsequent smoking of the material unnecessary. (Teit 1900:185-186)

The Lower Thompson data reported by Ray (1942:124-127) are at sufficient variance with the generic Thompson information summarized above to suggest an outline of these downriver data. Deer skins to be tanned with the hair removed were fleshed, soaked in water, placed over a slanting log and scraped with a deer or elk rib tool, cured with deer brains or fish oil, stretched on a frame with a fire nearby or simply with the hands, and grained with a hafted stone or wooden implement. For waterproofing, they were sometimes smoked. This process involved sewing the skins together into a tent-like shape, and placing them around a conical or hemispherical frame, set over a pit three feet deep. The smoke was generated with a fuel of rotten pine or fir wood. Bear and coyote hides were tanned with the hair left on, and so also sometimes deer and wolf skins. The tanning and otherwise working with hides was largely, but not entirely, women's work among the Lower Thompson.

It will be noted that this description fails to conform to any single treatment method reported for the Thompson as a whole by Teit. It seems to some degree to represent a kind of distillation of the essential steps of several of his processes and the combination of these into a single procedure.

Flat pieces of hide -- presumably untanned -- were used as surfaces on which to keep paints (Teit 1900:184).

Skins were sewed with needles of wood, bone, and "horn" (antler?) and with awls of different sizes. Long thorns answered for pins. Thread was of willow and other bark, deer sinew, and buckskin. Skins were embroidered with porcupine quills, often dyed different colors, and later (but beginning in pre-White days) with horsehair, also frequently dyed. Beads were widely in use prior to 1858, after which they rapidly fell out of favor. (Teit 1900:186-187)

Blankets and pouches were handwoven of strips of twisted rabbit skin with string warps. Blankets were likewise fashioned of marmot and groundhog skins, these being sewn together not cut into strips and woven into a single piece as with the rabbit skins. (Ray 1942:164; Teit 1900:190)

Artifacts of Other Materials

Various other materials available within the Thompson natural environment were put to technological uses. Two of these deserve particular mention.

Bark -- in small pieces or very large strips -- served many purposes in traditional Thompson life. Bark baskets were fashioned by the Upper Division in large numbers from birch bark and occasionally poplar or spruce (Figure 3-21) and were more commonly used than woven cedar root baskets. The bark strip was folded to form the container bottom; the sides were made to overlap and were sewed together with split spruce or poplar roots. The rim was strengthened with a hoop of split willow twigs, stitched in place by a lashing over the rim. The exterior surface was often ornamented with incised or red-painted designs. Varying greatly in size, they served as storage and carrying containers, in cooking, and as cups and buckets. Large ones included one type made of poplar or spruce bark, about 3 feet high, 3 feet long, and 2.5 feet wide, with hoops around the middle and rim and often painted with "pictures." These large baskets were kept inside the dwelling and were used for the storage of provisions. (Teit 1900:187, 200-201)

Figure 3-21. Upper Thompson birch bark basket, front view (A) and side view (B) (Teit 1900:201 Figure 147).

Whether the Lower Thompson fabricated bark baskets, with split-root side stitching and rim hoop as were common among the Upper people, is in some doubt. Teit remarks that they did not; Ray (1942:160-161) reports that they used baskets of birch, spruce, and occasionally cedar bark.

Bark served many other functions. Among these were the large strips that covered dwellings and objects stored on elevated caches, the smaller pieces that covered pit cache entrances and the entrance-smokehole of underground houses. Birch bark was used extensively as canoe-frame covering material by the Upper Thompson and to some slight extent also by the Lower Division. On occasion bark was pressed into service to line graves and then to fashion a conical tent over the grave.

Animal hair (often termed "wool") was used in weaving blankets, material culture items of considerable importance among the Lower Thompson. As to mountain goat hair, there is no question. It was made into flexible cordage by both Lower and Upper Thompson, sometimes first cleaned and whitened by being mixed with baked white diotomaceous earth and beaten with a flat stick. This cordage, in turn, was woven into the blanket. The technique of making the heavy thread, the weaving method, and the loom and spindle employed were essentially identical to those of the Lower Fraser groups. Most blankets were finished with a tassel fringe along one end. Ornamentation was achieved by weaving patterns into the fabric with threads of black-bear hair or goat-hair dyed yellow with lichens or red with alder bark. (Ray 1942:163-164; Teit 1900:184,188,191)

Whether dog hair was used in like manner, as it was on the coast, is less clear. Speaking of the Thompson generally and the Upper Division more particularly, Teit (1900:191) writes that the tribe "seems to have used... only" wild goat hair in their weaving, no dog hair. On the other hand, Ray's (1942:163) Lower Thompson informant indicated that his Division, whatever the case with the Upper group, put dog hair to the same fabric-making purpose as goat wool. With the available ethnographic data, there seems to be no certain way of resolving these discordant statements. One ethnohistorical fact, however, tends to support Ray's field information: ascending the Fraser Canyon in early July, 1808, Fraser (1960:116) secured "a blanket of Dog's hair" at a Lower Thompson village. It appears that here again we may have a significant cultural difference between the two Thompson divisions.

Pigment Substances

Coloring agents may be classified in various ways. For example, according to the form of the coloring material: i.e., whether a solid (crayon-like mass), a fluid suspension (paint), or chemicals in solution (dye). Or according to the method of application to the object to be colored: e.g., applied to the surface dry as a stick or chunk, or mixed with some sort of carrying fluid and spread thinly over the surface with a finger, stick, brush, or similar device, or as a liquid in which the object is immersed to soak. Or according to the origin of the coloring substance: i.e., whether an inert mineral or earth substance or an organic -- animal or plant -- substance.

The published ethnographic data are generally insufficiently detailed to allow the information to be classified comfortably according to either the first or second classificatory schemes. Moreover, the first two classifications depend in part upon some previous processing steps, whereas the third focuses upon the coloring substance in its source state, following the materials approach of the technology section above. For these reasons the information below is organized according to this third viewpoint. This possesses the additional merit of meshing well with the central bioenvironmental adaptive interests of this study.

Because a clear distinction seems to be rarely made in the original data between paints and dyes, as defined above, it is not always clear which is actually intended. Consequently in the ethnographic data that follow I use the term given to the coloring material in the source. This is so even in cases like the Lithospermum one below where I believe dye, not paint, must be meant.

Red, yellow, and brown ocher were the sources of red, yellow, and brown paint respectively. The red mineral was found in considerable quantities within the Thompson boundaries. In fact, a Lower Thompson village in the Fraser Canyon bore a name which translates as "place where red ocher is obtained." Cuprous clay yielded blue paint. White earthen materials and burnt deer bones gave a white paint. A village locality, also within the canyon walls, was named by a term that called attention to it as a source of white clay that was burned to a fine white powder; this was used in cleaning mountain goat wool in making blankets and, when mixed with oil or fat, in producing a white paint. Powdered charcoal furnished black paint. All of these paints were kept in stone vessels or on hides and, when used, were mixed with melted deer grease, heated, and applied with a stick or finger. Mud was used to impart a brown or black color to grass to be employed in decorating baskets: the grass was simply buried in it. (Hill-Tout 1900:501, 502; Teit 1900:184)

Plant materials likewise furnished coloring substances. The root of the stoneseed or gromwell (Litho spermum angustifolium[?] [Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:394]) yielded a red material used as a facial paint and especially in coloring skins; the fresh root was dipped into deer grease and rubbed on the object to be painted. Powdered hemlock fungus also furnished a red paint. The flowers of the larkspur (Delphinium menziesii [Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:132]) produced blue coloring material that served both as a paint and as a dye. Yellow lichen juice provided a yellow dye. Rotten wood was boiled to give green and blue dyes, and alder bark likewise to give a light red dye. (Teit 1900:184)

Many tools and utensils made of stone, bone, wood, bark, or skin were painted. Heated prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) was rubbed on paints applied to skins to fix them. (Teit 1900:184)


The clothing of the Upper and Lower Thompson differed a good deal as a consequence of environmental differences and so different patterns of resource availability and also as a result of differing opportunities for trade with other tribes. Although there were better and poorer hunters and sectors of their division territory that were better or poorer in deer, the Upper Thompson generally dressed in garments fabricated from dressed deer hides. The Fraser River country of the Lower Thompson, on the other hand, had few deer. (Teit 1900:206)

It is of interest that these differences in Thompson dress were perceived by the Okanagan, who told Teit that

the Thompson were not as uniform in their dress [as they themselves were], there being much greater variety in quality and style. Also some individuals were careless or peculiar in their dress, and some others were too poor to dress correctly. Possibly, however, [Teit speculates,] the chief reason may have been that the Thompson were more under different influences than the Okanagon, styles from west, north, east, and south all reaching them to some extent. (Teit 1930b:230)

Teit is surely correct in recognizing a higher and more complex level of extratribal influences on the Thompson. Yet intratribal differences in the availability of critical natural resources were obviously important in explaining Thompson dress variability, and even sociocultural attitudes and practices plainly played their role.

While the concerns of this survey lie only marginally with the Upper Thompson, it is useful to summarize here their typical clothing partly as an illustration of the hazards of extrapolating from their cultural life to that of the Lower Thompson.

Men's clothing among the Upper Thompson was as follows, garments well described and illustrated by Teit (1900; see also Hill-Tout 1900:508):

  • Sleeved shirts of two deer skins or a bison skin, reaching to the knees, made and ornamented in several styles. (Teit 1900:206)
  • Skin jackets sometimes worn in place of the shirts. (Teit 1900:207)
  • Fringed leggings that reached above the thighs, or short knee-length ones. (Teit 1900:208)
  • Buckskin breechclouts fastened to a belt or passing over the belt front and back. Some old men wore only a front apron instead. (Teit 1900:208)
  • Moccasins with soles of unsmoked buckskin and a doeskin leg piece. Until about 1840, the common style was made of a single piece of skin up to the ankle; its seam was on the outside of the foot close to the ground. About 1800 a new type was introduced from elsewhere. This had a seam around the top of the outside of the foot and the upper extended down nearly to the toes. Still a third style was in vogue by 1900. For walking on slippery ground, two skin strips were sewed crosswise on the sole. Moccasins were occasionally ornamented with colored porcupine quills, goose feathers, and various other materials. In winter, grass or sagebrush bark was placed inside the footgear for warmth. Poor people wore long boots of sagebrush bark. (Teit 1900:209-212)
  • Deerskin mittens, hair inside. (Teit 1900:212)
  • Skin headbands. (Teit 1900:212)
  • Skin caps, sometimes with the animal tail hanging behind. (Teit 1900:213)

Special clothing and ornaments were worn by particular groups within the Thompson society. Hunters' headbands were elaborate. One described by Teit (1900:213) was made of coyote skin daubed with red ocher with a front cross-piece of horsehair dyed yellow and red, a red-ochered buckskin fringe, and eagle down. From its top rose hawk and eagle feathers. Sometimes long buckskin streamers were tied to the headband or hair in back, and to these were affixed dyed feathers and yellow horsehair. Warriors' headbands were adorned with red ocher designs, eagle feathers, and down, and were likewise fitted with the back streamers. Shamans affected high headbands to which were attached flicker feathers, yellow-dyed horsehair, eagle down, and sometimes ermine and other skins. (Teit 1900:213-214)

The clothing of Upper Thompson women was quite like that of the men:

  • Sleeved buckskin or doeskin dresses (longer than the male shirts), highly ornamented with fringes, dentalia, beads, dyed porcupine quills, goose feathers, and horsehair. The cut differed widely: some dresses were very wide while others narrowed considerably below the waist. (Teit 1900:214-216)
  • A long, wide buckskin or sagebrush bark belt, rather like a bodice. (Teit 1900:216)
  • Long or short leggings, sometimes ornamented along the sides.
  • Moccasins.
  • Broad deerskin headbands or caps. (Teit 1900:217)

Many poorer Upper Thompson people wore only the clout, moccasins, and a deer or dog skin blanket over the body (Teit 1900:217).

Girls wore a breech-cloth, and laced their robes tightly in front with buckskin straps. Their hair was plaited in four braids. They added necklaces and a buckskin cap or broad headband, this last adorned with embroidery or dentalia or designs painted in red. (Teit 1900:217-218)

In winter wealthy people wore robes of skins of beaver, coyote, lynx, wolf, or bear, hair side out. Poorer persons were forced to wear robes of sagebrush and willow bark and of deer, dog, marmot, and bison skins with the hair left on. Robes of woven skins of marmot, hare, and other animals were worn by both rich and poor. (Teit 1900:218)

Marmot robes were made of 10 or 12 skins sewed together, with a buckskin fringe at the seams. Bison robes were dressed with both sides soft and white, painted with designs, or with one side white and the other with the hair left on. Beaver robes required four to eight skins sewed together. Robes were also made of dressed deer skin. (Teit 1900:219)

Figure 3-22. Rainy weather poncho of sagebrush bark (Teit 1900:219-220 Figure 194).

Ponchos were fabricated of coyote, fox, and wolf skins, decorated with buckskin fringe and feathers, and generally lined with buckskin. Some men wore a very short poncho made of their guardian spirit bird or animal, the head in front. Ponchos were also fashioned of the black tree lichen, but the process is unfortunately not described by Teit. Rain-weather ponchos were also made of sagebrush, willow, and cedar bark (Figure 3-22). (Teit 1900:219-220)

The Lower Thompson data are not nearly as full. Presumably their clothing was generally like that of the Upper Division people unless otherwise noted by Teit or by Ray in the data that follow. Wealthier persons wore the same kind of breechcloth as in the Upper group, but many old men wore skin aprons instead. Occasionally men, Ray reports, wore willow bark clouts, and women sometimes a skirt of shredded cedar bark. Long, wide women's belts were also fashioned of cedar bark. Although some people preferred elkskin or deerskin caps, headbands were far more common, those of men consisting of bird or small animal skins with the head facing forward and those of women made of buckskin with dentalia ornamentation. Feather headdresses were not widely worn. In summer and in rainy weather, people went barefoot. In winter moccasins like those of the Upper

Division were worn, padded with softened bear or mountain goat skin with the hair on. Poor people made do with footgear of dog-salmon skins, the feet first wrapped with shredded bark, grass, or deer hair. (Ray 1942:164-168; Teit 1900:220)

No buckskin shirts were worn, only robes. Most of these were woven of mountain goat wool often with an edge fringe and with black, yellow, and red patterns woven into the cloth. Ray writes also of Lower Thompson "blankets" of dog wool, with "[white] earth or fibers beaten in" and woven on a roller loom; presumably these doubled as robes. Robes fashioned of the skins of deer, mountain goat, ground hog, and marmot tanned with the hair on were also common. Woven rabbit-skin blankets were rarely seen and painted robes of dressed deerskin were unknown. Ponchos were woven of mountain goat wool or cut out of skins. Poor people used robes, ponchos, and aprons of cedar bark, sometimes dyed red. (Ray 1942:163-168; Teit 1900:220)

Two early ethnohistorical footnotes to the preceding ethnographic data are worth reporting. On his summer journey of exploration in 1808, Simon Fraser (1960:94, 116) passed through the entire length of the Fraser Canyon and hence by the principal salmon fisheries of the Lower Thompson. Only twice is there mention of clothing in his journals. He writes of the Nailgemugh -- Lower Thompson -- as having "robes made of beaver &c" and of having traded from them "a blanket of Dog's hair." In a way the observations of Simpson (1947:38) in October, 1828, are of special interest, both for their information, though scanty, concerning the Lower Thompson and for what they tell us about Sir George and his perceptions of the Indians. He reports having seen scores of Naked Wretches" at their rocky salmon sites as his party in their watercraft passed down the Fraser Canyon. "A Leather or Dog hair waist band, was the only article of dress they wore, many dispensed even with that, and the only Fur we saw among them, was one piece of Beaver coating, and a few Siffleur [marmot] or Ground Hog Skins."

Personal Adornment

Both sexes wore ear ornaments of dentalia suspended from skin or bark strips passed through ear lobe and rim perforations. Attached to these shells as tassels were scalps of the red-headed woodpecker. Often as many as four pendants were hung from the helix of each ear. Among the Lower Thompson abalone-shell ear ornaments and bone beads were sometime favored. (Ray 1942:171, 207; Teit 1900:222)

Ornaments through the nasal septum were worn exclusively by women. They were generally dentalia or a piece of bone, although copper and slate pieces were not unknown; while some were crescent-shaped, most of these ornaments were straight. Whatever the material, they extended outward beyond the nostrils. Those with hollow ends were made colorful by having red-headed woodpecker scalps inserted in one or both ends. Nose rings and lip plugs of the coastal labret variety were unknown. (Hill-Tout 1900:507; Ray 1942:171; Teit 1900:222-223)

Necklaces were widely worn by both men and women. Shells, claws, teeth, cactus seeds, seeds of the silver buffalo-berry, small flat circular horn and bone beads, and even berries were all strung on buckskin or bark thongs for this purpose. Some necklaces fell close to the throat; others, occasionally worn in numbers, hung nearly to the waist. Small squares of sheet copper were hung from necklaces, but whether only after the appearance of the fur traders is not indicated by Teit. Young women strung cactus flowers as necklaces. Men had neck ornaments consisting of a skin thong with eagle feather pendants. Shamans with a grizzly bear guardian spirit and hunters who had killed this animal commonly wore grizzly claw necklaces to advertise their bravery. (Ray 1942:172; Teit 1900:223)

In early days every Thompson, male and female, was tattooed to some extent on some part of the body. Most commonly it was on the front of the arms and back of the wrist, less often on the lower legs, and rather rarely on the back of the hands. On the face it was confined mostly to cheeks and chin. There were significant differences between the sexes in the frequency in which the various body parts were tattooed. Also notable differences between the bands and two divisions: facial tattooing, for example, was more common among the Lower Thompson than in the Upper Division. (Teit 1930c:403-405)

Continuous tattoo lines were created by pulling a thin thread, blackened with powdered charcoal, under the skin with a fine bone needle; dots, by drawing the pattern on the skin with wet charcoal and forcing this substance beneath the surface by pricking it in with a cactus spine, thorn, or porcupine quill. The tattooing process was usually commenced at about puberty, and continued off and on through early manhood or womanhood. It was carried out by an age-mate of the same sex more or less secretly but without attendant ceremonies of any kind. (Teit 1930c:405)

Although done largely as ornament, especially that on the face, tattooing was likewise carried out to demonstrate courage; to assist in acquiring a guardian spirit; with guardian spirit help and sometimes under its explicit instruction, to insure success, health, and long life and to cure illness; and to show fidelity and affection in marriage. Some marks were representational, depicting, for instance, sweathouse stones, mountains seen on guardian spirit quests, dreams, and arrows (to help a girl secure a husband). Slaves were tattooed at times with ownership marks on their hands. (Teit 1930c:405-407)

Tattoo designs varied widely. Many examples are figured by Teit (1930c:408-418). Those added to the face were always straight lines: Lower Division women often had a few such lines radiating from the mouth sideways and others down over the chin, or one or two lines from the nose to the ears. Patterns on arms, wrists, and other body parts were wavy, curved, or zigzag lines, circles, triangles, star-like, and so on. Some patterns were symbolic and so were named (e.g., eagle's tail, rainbow), but most were merely described (e.g., mouth tattoo double line). Interestingly, in his very extensive collection of Thompson myths, Teit found no reference whatever to tattooing. (Teit 1930c:403-416; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:507; cf. Ray 1942:171-172; cf. Teit 1900:228)

Face and body painting was universal among the Thompson, the face more commonly than the body. Most people washed and painted daily, a few young people several times a day. Some Thompson actually changed their designs almost every day.

The colors applied were several shades of red (ocher) -- especially a rich brownish red -- yellow (ocher), blue, white (clay), black (charcoal), and perhaps rarely green. A micaceous hematite paint yielded a shiny, sparkling appearance. The red earth was found in considerable quantities within the Thompson borders. One of the Lower Division villages, in fact, bore a name which translates as "place where red ocher is obtained." Good red paint was also secured often by Thompson visitors at Vermilion in the upper Similkameen Valley, a location that I have not yet identified but which was evidently in early days in the country of the Athapascan Nicola tribe (Figure 3-1) (Teit 1930b:218). A locality within the Lower Thompson canyon was named by a term that called attention to the area as a source of white clay, material that, when burned to a fine white powder, was used in cleaning mountain goat wool in weaving blankets and was mixed with oil or fat to produce a white paint. Vegetable stains were not favored. Most paint was mixed with water or grease before being applied with the fingers or brushes, or was spread dry on a wet or greased skin. Paint pencils were also used. Sometimes paint was put on and then scraped off in places to create the desired pattern. Most people carried small paint bags attached to the belt, the material being replaced as necessary from a larger supply left home. Paint mortars and mixing dishes were utensils in nearly every dwelling.

Colors carried complex symbolic meanings among the Thompson. For example, red (and brown) signified good, life, heat, day, and so on; black, the opposite. Yellow carried the meaning of earth and things associated with it: grass, trees, stones, water, etc. Blue was the sky color. White (and gray) was the "spirit" color, that of the ghost, dead people, bones, sickness, and the like. Curiously, these color meanings seem to have been limited to the facial and body designs, not much applied to patterns on baskets, clothing, and so on, where it was the decorative effect that counted.

The purpose of face and body painting was essentially the same as in tattooing: much for ornamentation yet much also had strong connections "with religion, dreams, guardian spirits, cure of disease, protection, prayers, speech, good luck, war, or death." Some painting styles were special to shamans, warriors, young women, elderly women, and certain ceremonials. Teit records a list of over one hundred specific design patterns with their individual meanings and cultural associations, and he figures many of these in color: ornamental designs, designs linked to the ghost dance and others to guardian spirit dances, patterns connected with dreams and guardian spirits, designs used in war dances, and painted forms applied by shaman instruction. (Teit 1930c:418-439; also Hill-Tout 1900:501-503, 507; Ray 1942:172; Teit 1900:228)

Body Care and Beauty Standards

As mentioned elsewhere in this report, sweat bathing and the cold plunge that followed were a practice of the Lower Thompson, but, Ray (1942:170) reports, were not regarded as of any great importance in maintaining physical health or in contributing greatly to hunting success and the proper conduct of ceremonials. Other data relating to body care are scattered through this survey. Here are considered a few odds and ends that fail to fit well in other contexts.

As a substitute for soap, the Thompson used water in which birch leaves had been allowed to stand, poplar-wood ashes, urine, and a special variety of white clay found on certain lake shores. Baths were occasionally taken by the Lower Thompson from hot water in birch bark baskets; the body was rubbed with spruce boughs. Rough skin was softened with deer back fat or, among the Lower Thompson, with salmon oil. In the Lower Thompson group, a cosmetic and hair oil was made from marrow extracted from bones that had been boiled and broken. Cosmetics consisting of deer, bear, and mountain goat tallow were also used as a protective coating for both face and body. (Ray 1942:136,172,182; Teit 1900:228)

Men removed their beard with horn or wooden tweezers and women narrowed their eyebrows in the same way. Frequently the hair part was painted red. (Ray 1942:169; Teit 1900:227-228)

As Teit (1900:224) observes, "special attention was paid [by the Thompson] to the hair-dress." The many stylistic variations in dress and ornamentation are so extensively described by Teit that only the principal facts and a few illustrations can be noted here. The hair was cut only in mourning. It was greased by the Lower Thompson with salmon oil, by the Upper bands with deer fat mixed with water in which balsam-fir, sweet grass, or other fragrant plant materials had been boiled. This grease was applied after the daily morning bath. Combs were thin, flat pieces of wood split finely at one edge and with the splints interwoven to separate their points slightly. (Ray 1942:170; Teit 1900:224) "A wooden comb of curious construction" was traded by Fraser (1960:116) from the Lower Thompson on July 9,1808, one of the very few items mentioned in his narrative as having been secured from the tribe.

Hair dressing styles were very numerous. Among men: two side braids tied together near the brow; two side braids and one back braid; front hair with two braids beside the ears; front hair banged with the rest drawn back behind the neck; front hair knotted over the head; and so on. Women almost invariably divided the hair into two braids, the ends usually tied together in back. Buckskin strips embroidered with porcupine quills or strips with dentalia or bits of bone, claws, or feathers attached were hung from the hair. Some men wore such strips, with the feathers, that were as much as four feet long. (Teit 1900:225, 227)

Smaller segments of Thompson society had their own particular fashions. Young women knotted their braids into small bundles on each side behind the ears. Both in normal times and when out on a raid, warriors wore their hair in special ways. For example, they knotted it on one side only and decorated this knot with hawk or eagle tail-feathers daubed with red ocher. Other fashions included rendering it stiff with white clay, painting it fiery red, and braiding it into different patterns, some that made it stand up like horns. Children to the age of puberty allowed the hair to hang loose. During their puberty rites, boys wore their hair knotted behind the head; girls put their hair up into two knots behind their ears. (Ray 1942:170; Teit 1900:225-226)

The Thompson had definite opinions as to the features that made for a physically attractive person: e.g., light smooth skin; tall stature; straight, spare body; long arms; legs of medium length; long, abundant hair; bare face with sharp hair line; and so on for hands and feet, cheek color, eye and nose shape; etc. (Teit 1900:229)


In this section are discussed the various structures that comprised the typical Thompson settlement in winter and in the open season, certain matters relating to the location and character of their residential and task-oriented sites, and the domestic and tame animals that were not an insignificant component of the Thompson settlement.

Dwellings and Associated Structures (Part I)

The structures of the usual Thompson community consisted of the dwellings in their seasonal manifestations, of several ancillary shelters (menarcheal and menstrual shelters, and sweat lodges), and of various processing and storage structures (drying racks and caches).

A number of more or less permanent dwelling types, in contrast with the insubstantial temporary shelters used, for example, by parties camping to take advantage of seasonal subsistence resources, were in common use among the Thompson in traditional times.

The most important dwelling was the semisubterranean winter house (Figure 3-23). It was

. . . generally built in the valleys of the principal rivers, within easy distance of water, and . . . inhabited by groups of families related to each other, who, although scattered during the hunting and fishing seasons, dwelt together during the winter. These dwellings rarely numbered more than three or four at one place, and often there was but a single house. The size conformed to the number of people (from fifteen to thirty) to be accommodated. (Teit 1900:192; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:513)

Figure 3-23. Two semisubterranean dwellings in the Nicola Valley, photographed in the 1890s by Harlan I. Smith (Boas 1975:Plates 19 and 20). The dwelling in B is in ruins.

Houses of this kind were located where the soil was loose. All the neighbors, fed by the house owner with the assistance of his relatives, aided in the construction, completing it sometimes in a single day. The outline of the pit was determined by knotting two bark ropes separately from 20 to 40 feet from one end to mark the full diameter of the structure and then laying them crosswise at right angles so their center points rested at the same spot. A man, by eye, described a circle, using the two rope ends and the two knots as his guide. The women dug the pit with their digging sticks, placing the dirt in large baskets from which it was dumped just outside the circle to be later used in covering the roof. (Teit 1900:192; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:512-513)

With all the heavy posts, lighter poles, withes, pine needles or grass, and other materials accumulated at the site, the framing of the structure began. Four heavy posts (Figure 3-24a) of green wood, barked but not squared and with the tops notched to receive the main rafters, were slipped into the holes into the ground prepared for their butts. Their bases formed a square and their tops a larger one since they were slightly inclined away from one another. Four sloping main rafters (b) were then put in place: each ran from the ground outside the pit, over the upper notched end of its post, and to near the center of the house and the apex of the roof. Eight short side rafters (c) were next added, one end resting on the ground and the other on a main rafter (b). Horizontal poles (d) were laid on so as to bridge the twelve rafters, large and small, and support the roof covering. To frame the square entranceway at the roof top, four heavy timbers (e) were bound to the ends of the rafters. Save for the entrance, the entire structure was covered tightly with small poles or pieces of split wood (f), running from the ground to the entranceway. These were covered with pine needles or dry grass and finally with a layer of earth, beaten and stamped down firmly. Because of the heavy rainfall in their country, the Lower Thompson lined their underground dwellings with large pieces of cedar bark, inner side out. (Teit 1900:192-194)

Figure 3-24. Construction details of Thompson semisubterranean dwelling after Teit (1900:193 Figures 135, 136).

Entry into the house was down a notched log (g), the base of which was placed near the center of the floor while its upper end rested against the west side of the peak entryway and extended out above it. A groove ran along the length of the back of the log to serve as a handhold. The top of this ladder was often crudely carved into an animal or bird head or was painted red. Generally these figures were ornamental, but occasionally depicted the owner's guardian spirit. The bottom of the ladder was protected from the nearby central house fire by a stone slab set on edge between the two. Etiquette required that an entering person call out to allow women cooking below to protect the food from dust and dirt. Smaller supplementary fires were kindled near the four main posts in bitterly cold weather and sometimes to cook food if the dwelling was occupied by many families. The central section of the house between the four roof-supporting posts was used by all resident families. Behind and around this area, under the sloping roof, each family had its own quarters. Interestingly, the spaces between the four principal beams were called "houses" and took their name from the points of the compass. A thick layer of brush, fir boughs, or dry grass, renewed every three or four days, was placed over the floor and covered with skins or grass mats. Skins or blankets woven of bighorn sheep or mountain goat hair covered sleepers. Pillows were the rolled-up ends of the grass mats or skin bags filled with bulrush "fuzz" or bird down. Meat was spread on poles above the fire or simply hung near the roof and dried in the smoke. Food was eaten from large mats spread on the ground (Hill-Tout 1900:512, 513; Ray 1942:140, 179; Teit 1900:194, 199, 234). The interior arrangement, allocation of space, and the like are not otherwise described in the ethnographic literature.

The few details reported by Ray (1942:177-178) concerning this underground winter dwellings in its Lower Thompson from differ in no important way from the Upper Thompson data above except on one point. The diameter of the pit ranged from 12 to 20 feet, notably less than Teit's approximations. Possibly these structures were in fact smaller among the downriver division. On the other hand, it is not inconceivable that the two sets of measurements are both close estimates for the different time periods of Teit's and Ray's informants: during this 40 year span a considerable amount of depopulation occurred which may have been reflected in the dwelling size. Ray adds to Teit's data three items of some interest: the structure pit was approximately 4 feet deep; the basic roofing was of bark or brush or planks, these latter being evidently Teit's split wood; and a piece of bark was used to cover the entrance when this was desired.

These underground dwellings were generally occupied by the Thompson from December to February or even March, depending on the severity of the weather. Though inconvenient, they were extremely warm, making it possible for the occupants to remain scantily clad. Until about 1880 or a little later, almost the entire Thompson tribe lived in these houses. (Teit 1900:195)

Save for the three coldest months, the Thompson lived in above-ground "summer" lodges. These, among most of the Upper Division, consisted of a rectangular or square framework of poles, covered with mats or bark. One common variety (Figure 3-25 A, 3-26 A) was roughly rectangular in ground plan with straight sides and somewhat rounded ends. On a flat surface cleared of obstacles two pairs of strong poles (a) were tied together with willow withes at their small ends. The bases of each pair were separated and set in or on the ground to create two inverted V's about 10 feet apart. These were connected by four horizontal poles (b) on each side, bound in place. The gable ends (c) were framed with smaller poles, their tops against the end pole pairs (a) and their bottoms set out some distance so that the ends of the structure were rather rounded. The entrance was in one end. The entire shelter was covered with long reed mats in overlapping tiers, shingle-fashion, but with a long opening as a smoke exit and light entrance left at the top of the structure from one end to the other. A lodge framed in the same way but covered with cedar bark was used by the Lower Thompson. (Teit 1900:195, 197; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:513)

Figure 3-25. Construction details of six Thompson "summer" lodges after Teit (1900:197 Figures 137-142). The small letters in Teit's Figure 137 and 142 identifying the structural components have been replaced by larger and more readable letters.

Figure 3-26. Framework of two Thompson summer mat lodges, photographed in 1890s by Harlan I. Smith (Boas 1974:2 of unpaginated introduction, Plates 21, 22). A: through much smaller, appears to be in the pattern of Figure 3-25 A. B: shows features of Figures 3-25 D and E.

The Lower Thompson cedar bark dwelling of precisely this variety, exclusively a "summer" shelter, is described by Ray (1942:174-176, 180) with additional details. It was, he reports, 12 to 18 feet in length and 10 to 12 feet in width, positioned so its long dimension was with the prevailing wind. It was constructed with a double ridgepole. The strips of cedar-bark covering were generally placed horizontally, were overlapping, and were held more securely in place with vertical pole binders. The entrance was invariably at only one end; it was closed with a hanging tule or willow mat. The exterior was banked at the bottom with grass, covered with earth, and the interior was furnished with a tule mat lining. (Why this lining was in use in a warm weather structure is not explained.) The ridge was open only above the single fire, set in the central, end-to-end aisle. The floor was covered with rush mats or with twigs and leaves. Storage was over poles along the walls, over cross-poles or ropes, between wall and rafters, and sometimes at the ends of the dwelling or simply on the floor.

A lodge essentially like the preceding but with low vertical walls and a gable, inverted-V roof was also in use among the Lower Thompson according to Ray (1942:174).

Two slightly different reed-mat covered shelters (Figure 3-25 B, C) with a frame of four main poles set to form a square were also common among the Thompson. In both of these types all four sides inclined inwards. (Teit 1900:195, 197)

Conical lodges (Figure 3-25 D, E) with about a dozen or more pole supports arranged rather like those of a tipi were also in use by two Upper Division bands where they were covered with mats or the hides of large animals. A framework of this style was photographed in Thompson country by Harlan I. Smith in the 1890s (Figure 3-26 B). Conical dwellings are reported, however, not to have occurred among the Lower Thompson. (Ray 1942:179; Teit 1900:195-196, 197)

When many people gathered, as at Thompson "potlatches" and fishing sites, a larger structure (Figure 3-25 F) was necessary. It consisted essentially of two mat-covered lean-tos placed face to face. The diagram shows the simple construction details, but fails to suggest the typically large size of these shelters. The inclined roof poles (a) were set 10 to 12 feet apart. The distance separating the two halves of the house was about 15 feet; in this open space burned the large log fires. For better protection when needed against the wind, both ends were closed with fir-boughs or brush, making a single shelter often 50 to 60 feet long. (Teit 1900:196)

In autumn both the Lower and Upper Thompson constructed hunting lodges generally in sheltered valleys in the mountains near good hunting grounds. They were similar in their framing to the square lodges described above, but larger, fashioned of heavier poles, and covered with sticks and bark spread with fir branches. (Teit 1900:196)

In pitching lodges for rather short-term occupancy their entrances were generally positioned toward the place where the women secured the family's water. This prevented the women, when fetching water, from having to pass behind the part of the lodge where the heads of people were when they slept. (Teit 1900:327)

Dwellings and Associated Structures (Part II)

Temporary Shelters

A brush shelter, usually used but once for a very short time, was hastily constructed by Thompson hunting parties in winter and early spring. It had a square or conical frame of light poles and was covered among the Lower Thompson with long, wide strips of cedar bark. This Lower Division also made a small temporary shelter with a single slanting roof framed like one-half of the very large dwelling described above (Figure 3-25 A). (Ray 1942:179; Teit 1900:196-197)

The Lower Fraser made use of a summer shelter which apparently did not occur among the Upper Division bands -- at least Teit fails to mention it. This was a flat-topped structure supported by four corner posts, with open sides and a roof of rush or willow matting or even of bark strips. Ray terms this a "temporary dwelling." Whether this signifies that it was in use only at fishing sites during the salmon season (as among the Sanpoil [Ray 1932:34-35]) or that it was a shelter erected, for instance, by hunting parties to be used for no more than two or three days -- as an alternative to the brush shelter described in the preceding paragraph -- is not made clear.

Menarcheal and Menstrual Shelters

The menarcheal lodge of the Thompson was a temporary structure built as required near the village or hunting lodge. Conical, it was made by placing four small fir trees in a square, tying their tops and branches together, and filling in the open spaces with fir tops. It was just large enough to allow the girl to sit comfortably either in a shallow, circular pit or on the ground with her feet in the depression. (Teit 1900:198)

Every Thompson woman repaired to a small, generally conical structure "some little distance" from the village or temporary lodge as her shelter during every menstrual period. It was roughly constructed of brush among the Upper Thompson; of cedar bark by the Lower Division. The woman was taken food by other women but cooked it herself. In her hut she might weave baskets and engage in similar normal female pursuits, but she avoided all persons, especially males, venturing outside only when others were absent or asleep. At the close of her period and seclusion, she washed herself carefully, hung her clothing on a tree to be worn in later months, and put on fresh clothes.

This pattern of rigid seclusion was designed to prevent a menstruating woman from contaminating other persons and even animals and things. If, for example, a man ate food prepared by a woman in this condition or even ate in her company, or if he wore clothing made or patched by such a woman, he would have bad hunting luck and bears would attack him. Animals were insulted by any association with menstruation, however remote: accordingly, women were forbidden at any time to eat certain parts of large animals and, when menstruating, to eat any of their meat. While menstruating, they were not allowed to pass in front of weapons; to do so would make them useless unless purified. (Ray 1942:206; Teit 1900:326-327)

Sweat Lodges

Sweating was an important part of the cultural life of the Upper Thompson. Invariably close to water, sweat lodges were erected on a frame of two sets of bent willow wands with the two ends of each wand pushed into the ground and the two sets at right angles to each other (Figure 3-27 A). Each set had its longest wand in the center; its shortest at the two sides. Together they formed a dome-shaped framework. Withes tied the two series together wherever they crossed. The entrance between two wands was just large enough to allow a person to creep in. On one side of this door a foot-square pit was dug in the floor to hold the heated stones. The covering of these structures depended on their location and the frequency of their use. Those near villages, built with more wands to form a relatively tight network, were covered with a thick layer of dry pine needles and then a thick covering of earth; the doorway was closed with a blanket or skin. Or these were covered wholly or partly with bark. In contrast, those erected for more temporary and less frequent use were covered with blankets, which were removed to serve other purposes when the sweating was finished. The floor was covered with fresh fir-boughs, often with aromatic plants -- like sagebrush or juniper -- mixed in. These sweating structures accommodated from one to four people, all squatting. The sweating process was always concluded by a plunge into cold water. (Hill-Tout 1900:508; Teit 1900:198, 370)

A variant and apparently uncommon framework for the structure consisted of small poles erected in conical "tipi" form (Figure 3-27 B) (Boas 1975:2 of unpaginated introduction).

Figure 3-27. Framework of two sweat lodges, photographed by Harlan I. Smith in the 1890s (Boas 1974:2 of unpaginated introduction, Plates 23, 24). A: usual Thompson hemispherical type. B: occasional conical type, photographed in Nicola Valley.

While not extensively practiced by the Lower Thompson according to Ray (1942:170, 180-182), sweating was still part of the division's cultural heritage. His description of the group's lodge differs in some details from the foregoing and extends it in others as the following summary reveals. It was always sited near fresh water to allow the cold plunge that without exception followed the sweating. Large enough for only one person, it was constructed of a bent willow or fir frame, sometimes in a pit six inches deep, and of a covering of bark and then earth. The round entrance was closed with a hanging mat. Except for the pit for the hot rocks on either side of the entrance, the floor was covered with fir "twigs." The fire pit for heating the rocks was outside. Squatting as he sweated from the hot steam, a man prayed to the Sweat House, calling it "grandfather" and singing special sweat-house songs.

A Lower Thompson person was allowed to sweat at any time during the day, an activity carried out for cleanliness, curing, good fortune, and training depending on the circumstances at the time. The sweat lodge was owned by a single individual but used communally. Women were not allowed to approach men's sweat lodges; they had their own, built identically to those of males. (Ray 1942:180-182)

The difference between the Lower and Upper Thompson in the importance of sweating as described by Ray and Teit respectively raises the interesting question as to whether Ray could be mistaken. I suspect not, except perhaps in one sense. It appears more than conceivable that in this practice the Lower Thompson leaned downriver toward their Halkomelem neighbors, among whom little attention was directed toward sweating, while the Upper Thompson participated in the general central and southern Plateau pattern with its emphasis on sweat-bathing. Ray's data reporting an inconspicuous role for sweating among the Lower Division may, however, be less than fully correct. In the Plateau sweating was intimately associated with hunting. It could be expected, therefore, that the Lower people while at their canyon salmon fisheries and in their canyon villages paid comparatively little attention to the sweat lodge. But when they emerged from the chasm and went to the mountains to hunt -- and gather and fish for smaller fish -- they may well have followed the customary Plateau custom of extended sweat house use. Presumably this would have been notably the case for those Lower Thompson who were specialist hunters and those (perhaps the same group) who sometimes spent much of the year in the high country. As already remarked upon, Ray's Lower Thompson data seem oriented principally toward the canyon, fishing segment of their old life patterns.

Attendant Structures

In the vicinity of the dwellings, drying racks were erected. These consisted of a simple framework of poles: i.e., a supporting structure and a series of horizontal poles about five feet above the ground. In drying meat these horizontal poles were placed a few inches apart; beneath them fires were often kindled to assist in the drying process. Over mats placed on these poles berries were thinly spread to dry under the hot sun. From these platforms it appears, though Teit is not quite specific on this point, roots, threaded on bark or grass strings, were hung to dry. Poles were also arranged near houses for drying salmon: after proper preparation, the fish were hung over these until dry and hard. Nearby sweat house frames -- uncovered, of course, at the time -- were sometimes used as meat drying racks when the quantity was small and it was desirable to dry it quickly. (Teit 1900:234, 1930b:240)

Likewise near their dwellings -- at least in the late 1800s -- were constructed scaffolds of poles, about five feet above the ground, for storing cumbersome articles like saddles (Teit 1900:199). The indicated height of this platform is of interest in view of the extremely troublesome nature of the native dog in the Indian camp. Generally poorly fed and dependent on scavenging for most of their food, dogs were accustomed to attack every edible article -- including those of tanned hide -- wherever they could reach them. A storage surface of only five feet in height would have scarcely been out of their reach. Teit fails to indicate how the Thompson controlled this constant threat to their edible property.

Thompson caches for provisions and objects were of two varieties. One was fashioned by tying poles horizontally from lower limb to limb in a large tree with spreading top, placing the food or gear on these poles, and covering the pile with mats and bark -- planks or bark among the Lower Thompson -- secured with ropes. The platform was reached by a ladder. The more common cache, however, was the pit variety, a circular hole about four feet deep used exclusively for storing baskets of berries, dried fish, and the like, the baskets covered with birch bark. The roof was a double layer of poles placed horizontally at right angles to each other and covered with pine needles and earth. The entrance in the center of the roof was closed with sticks or bark, covered with earth. Among the Lower Thompson, at least, the pit was lined with bark. Occasionally these -- especially those containing fish -- were in the side of a bank with a side entrance. The Lower Thompson also used a large board box on posts at least five or six feet high with an end entrance, reached by a short ladder. Sometimes these were as much as 10 feet above the ground, according to Hill-Tout, to insure that the stored food was well out of reach of prowling dogs and other animals. These above-ground caches were in part an adaptation to the commonly hard, rocky ground in the canyon bottom. Accordingly, they were likewise in use among the Upper bands where the ground was too rocky to permit the digging of the pit storage structures. (Hill-Tout 1900:513; Ray 1942:137,180; Teit 1900:198-199, 234)

Residential and Task Sites

(omitted from the on-line edition)

Domestic and Tamed Animals

Any consideration of the Thompson village and its components cannot neglect the domestic and even tamed animal population.

Thompson dogs resembled coyotes in appearance. Though rather poor watch dogs, they were fine hunters. The best deer dogs were highly valued and taken good care of. It is uncertain whether dogs were trained to share light transportation duties. According to Teit, they were never used by the Thompson in any form of burden packing or hauling; among the Lower Thompson, Ray states, they were taught to carry packs. The resolution of this inconsistency is not obvious, unless relating to the different time period during which Teit and Ray gathered their field data. Dogs were generally named for some peculiarity in their marking or color. Some, however, were called after animals or birds that were noted for their swiftness, ferocity, or hunting abilities or that they were thought to resemble physically. (Ray 1942:159; Teit 1900:244, 256, 292)

Writing of the Lower Thompson specifically, Ray (1942:123-124, 163) reports that in the old days the Lower Thompson had many dogs, all with heavy hair. They were named, as Teit notes for the Thompson as a whole. Good dogs were leashed for their own protection and were allowed to live within the dwelling. They were trained with older dogs in the fine points of hunting, using deer parts in the training process, and were widely used in hunting both deer and bear. Dog "wool," like mountain goat wool, was used in weaving blankets on a roller loom. In times of famine dogs were eaten.

Horses reached the Upper Thompson toward the end of the 1700s. In early years they were extensively used for food. They were either named after the same fashion as dogs or given names like those possessed by people, including the special suffixes used for humans. (Teit 1900:292) I suspect that these animals were much less common among the Lower Thompson, but know of no hard data to support this proposition.

Beaver and bear were kept as pets by the Lower Thompson, the latter, however, on no more than a temporary basis (Ray 1942:124). If these two animals were held in captivity, other wild species were almost certainly tamed on occasion, to judge from the general Plateau-wide pattern.

Residential and Task Sites

The villages of the Lower Thompson -- i.e., their "permanent" communities in which they wintered year after year -- were located "at favorable spots along ... [both] banks of Fraser River, from . . . [about 3 miles] below the [Upper Thompson] village of Si'ska in the north, to . . . [the village of Spô'zêm about 2] miles below [the town of] Spuzzum in the south" (Teit 1900:168). Si'ska was situated where the present town of Cisco (Figure 3-1) is located, about eight miles downstream from Lytton; Spo'zem, of greater interest here since it was the downrivermost Lower Thompson winter settlement and therefore the nearest in direct line to the North Cascades Park, was about nine miles above Yale (Teit 1900:169, 171; BCGTB 1957). That Spuzzum was the southernmost Thompson village is also reported by Boas (BAAS 1890:801, 806; see NARN 1974:39, 41; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:501) on the basis of his own field research in the late 1880s.

The village sites of the Lower Division were unusually stable -- substantially more so than among the Upper Thompson -- and many families are said to have occupied the same village for generations. A roster of 19 of these locations, occupied in the 1890s, is provided by Teit (1900:169) for an approximately 37 mile stretch of the Fraser Canyon, about one every two miles on the average. Hill-Tout (1900:500-501), on the other hand, lists 25 or 26 villages for this same river distance and the same time period. In earlier years a number of smaller villages were situated at sites no longer occupied in the last of the 1800s.

These winter settlements are of no further interest in the present context since Spô'zêm, the nearest of them to the Park, was about 48 air miles roughly north of the point where the international border crossed the Skagit River. In short, it is clear from Teit's data that no Lower Thompson -- much less Upper Thompson winter villages were situated within the Park boundaries, a far from remarkable circumstance considering the difficult winter climate of even the lowest stream valleys within Lower Thompson country inside the North Cascades Complex.

On the other hand, as noted above, the area south of the Canadian boundary claimed by the Lower Thompson was considered by them as an extension of their hunting grounds north of the border. This being so, the group must have occupied temporary hunting camps, as well doubtless as other short- and medium-term task camps and more strictly traveling camps, in the region of the Park and the present Ross Lake (Figure 3-1). Unfortunately, there appears to be no ethnographic or ethnohistorical information on the specific locations of any of these sites.

It is, however, of some interest that Spô'zêm village was not many air miles or possible trail miles nearer Ross Lake than the closest traditional winter village of the Northern Okanagan, that at Keremeos on the Similkameen River (Teit 1900:166, 174). In neither instance was there an easy direct route, mountains being the problem in both cases. Lower Thompson parties had two obvious options. One required the party to thread its way to the upper Skagit through a continuous tangle of high mountains without major stream paths to follow, a route that would have kept them wholly within their own territory. The second, following a less difficult path, led down the Fraser River to the Hope district in Halkomelem Tait country and then southeasterly to the Skagit via either the Nicolum and Sumallo or the Silverhope and Klesilkwa. The Northern Okanagan Keremos might have made the journey, for instance, by way of the Similkameen, Ashnola, Pasayten, Similkameen again, and the Lightning Creek trail to the Skagit (see DEMR Hope quadrangle 1970). Both of these river routes would have been somewhat roundabout, as well as carrying the party through the territory of another tribe.

These data raise the question of why the northeastern, Ross Lake corner of the Park region was traditional Lower Thompson territory rather than Northern Okanagan country. Perhaps it was because of the relatively small size and unusually rugged contours of the Lower Thompson hunting-gathering territory above the British Columbia border, the tribe accordingly facing a more pressing need for the subsistence resources of this additional terrain in spite of its very difficult topography. But an important difference may have been that in early days the Lower Thompson, moving south down the Fraser, would have passed across the country of the friendly Tait tribe, while the Northern Okanagan would have had to traverse hostile Nicola land over a major part of their trail distance.

Different Thompson villages maintained their population integrity even when temporarily camping in a single locality. According to Teit (1900:294), when two or more groups took up residence at root grounds, they had their own camping areas.


The Upper Thompson had watercraft of three different kinds. The preferred and most common was the birch-bark canoe. The dugout, fashioned from a cedar log with fire and adzes, was a less favored alternative. The skin canoe, an elk or caribou hide stretched over a wooden frame, was a hunter's canoe, used principally in ferrying family and gear over water in his path when out in pursuit of game. Double-bladed paddles were employed with bark and skin canoes; a single bladed type was used with the dugout. (Hill-Tout 1900:515)

Among the Lower Thompson fine dugout canoes were manufactured of cedar, and others of lesser quality from pine logs. Several types were made, most with a projecting prow and some with an extending stern. None were commonly more than 25 feet long. They were shaped with antler wedges and stone mauls and then with stone adzes, axes, and chisels. When finished, they were filled with water which was brought to a boil with red-hot stones and into which were placed dried salmon heads. After this mixture had simmered for 24 hours or more, the wood had absorbed the oil and was less in danger of cracking. The exterior surface was often carved and painted in red, white, and black and ornamented with rows of elk or caribou teeth and shells. Cedar canoes made by specialists were sold in large numbers to the Upper Thompson. Paddles of maple, often painted, were provided with a crutch handle. Pointed fir poles were also used, one on each side, in propelling the craft. Bailers were of birch bark or bent cedar bark. (Ray 1942:155-158; Teit 1900:183, 184, 255-256)

Their dugout canoes were in constant use in the less turbulent sections of the Fraser Canyon and even, on occasion, to negotiate the rapids, truly dangerous journeys. In his narrative of 1808, Fraser (1960:89-98, 115-118) makes clear the importance of the canoe to the Lower Thompson. On more than one occasion his party, traveling through the canyon, purchased or secured the loan of native craft.

Only a few spruce bark canoes were in use among the Lower Thompson. The bark was sewn with spruce root fibers and stretched over a wooden frame. Seams were sealed with melted gum. (Teit 1900:183,184)

Rafts of logs lashed together with withes were used in fishing and in crossing streams (Teit 1900:256).

Goods were carried overland on the back of both men and women with the assistance of tumplines of buckskin, of cedar bark, or woven of mountain-goat wool. The burdens -- e.g., meat, berries, roots, camping gear -- were placed in coiled or birch bark baskets, which were then strapped to the back. (Ray 1942:147,148; Teit 1900:256)

For traveling in the mountains over deep snow, the Lower Thompson used snowshoes of an "owl sole" type unique to their division. Its frame was of maple; its network consisted of twisted strings of raw deer-hide or bear hide. Its special features, however, included the fact that it was rather egg-shaped, was slightly shorter than most Upper Division shoes, and, in particular, was more turned up at the front, all excellent adaptations for climbing their steep mountains. Further, it was rather wide-meshed, considered favorable for traveling on moist snow. Several of the subgroups within the Upper Thompson division likewise had their own peculiar, favored varieties. Fir branch toboggans were used by Thompson hunters in sliding down snow-covered hillsides. (Ray 1942:158-159; Teit 1900:256-257, 1930b:249)


A full tracing of the trails that ran within, through, and out of Thompson country is not possible from the fragmentary, scattered information appearing in the published ethnographic and ethnohistorical accounts. The following represents a compilation of such data as have been located, with special attention to the Lower Division.

Within the Lower Thompson country a trail ran the length of the Fraser Canyon, though whether there was a continuous path on both sides of the river is uncertain. This was an exceedingly difficult trail because of the sheer, towering cliffs and the great rock masses and the roaring stream with its almost or, in certain seasons, totally unnavigable rapids. Indeed, the several villages of the Lower Thompson "had little intercourse with one another, owing to the difficulty of travel in the Fraser Canon" (Teit 1900:178).

The problems of traveling through this river stretch both by water and on land inside the canyon walls can best be comprehended by reviewing three early journeys through this fearful distance: that of Simon Fraser in late June and early July, 1808; that of Sir George Simpson in early October, 1828; and that of Richard Mayne in 1859. These data also illustrate the remarkable efforts made by the Lower Thompson to facilitate along-river travel. For reference at other points in this chapter, such other ethnographic observations as are made are included in the following summaries of these three journeys. These native cultural notes of Fraser are of particular significance inasmuch as he and his party were, so far as is known, the first Westerners to see the Lower Thompson in their own country and before anything more than a stray bit of Western material culture had reached them through the intertribal trading network. No effort is attempted, however, to locate with whatever precision might be possible the natural features and Indian villages mentioned: in the present context it is sufficient to know that they lay between the confluence of the Thompson River, where Lytton now stands, just upstream from the northern limits of traditional Lower Thompson territory, and the foot of the canyon at Yale, just below the downrivermost Lower Division village.

The journal of Fraser (1960:86-98) recording his journey of exploration down the river contains the following relevant information:

June 19, 1808. Reached two large Hacamaugh [Thompson] villages at the Thompson river mouth. Observed two metal kettles and some Western clothing, trade items from posts east of the Rockies. "[C]hiefs and great men, appear to be good orators, for their manner of delivery is extremely handsome." Supplied with "salmon, berries, oil and roots in abundance and our men had six dogs [to eat]." Camped near Indian village.

June 20. Indians sang and danced all night. Obtained two wooden canoes. Presented with berries, roots, and oil in abundance. Asked for leather, but none was brought. Left villages at Thompson River mouth.

Aided by heavy rapids and a strong current, we . . . came to a portage. Here the canoes and baggage were carried up a steep hill, the ascent was dangerous -- stones and fragments of rocks were continually giving way from our feet and rolling off in succession; from this cause one of our men was much hurt, and a kettle bouncing into the river was lost. The Indians informed us that some years since, at this place, several of their people, having lost their balance from the steps giving way, rolled down to the river and perished, and we saw many graves covered with small stones all over the place. (Fraser 1960:89)


June 21. Indians singing and dancing on opposite bank. Terrible trouble for "three miles among rapids, cascades, whirlpools, &c. all inconceivably dangerous." Lost one of three canoes. (Editor's note: probably in "vicinity of Jackass Mountain, a dozen miles downstream from Lytton" [Fraser 1960:92 footnote 21]).

June 22. Four men brought canoes down by water, making several portages in the undertaking. Baggage carried by land. At village of about 110 men "were received with loud acclamations and generously entertained." Indians carried canoes past dangerous rapids. Encamped some distance from the village. At village Indians sang and danced and were very civil; gave Fraser's men three dogs and furnished party with "best [food] they could procure; but that best was commonly wretched if not disgusting." (Fraser 1960:92-93)

June 23. From past very dangerous experiences Fraser's men preferred "walking to going by water," even though walking "was difficult, the country being extremely rough and uneven." Canoes managed to negotiate rapids, but then one broken in portage. Camped at village of about 170 persons who call themselves Nailgemugh. Entertained "with singing, dancing, &c."

The Nailgemugh Nation are better supplied with the necessaries of life than any of those we have hitherto seen. They have robes made of beaver &c. We visited a tomb which was near by the camp. It was built of boards sewed together, and was about four feet square. The top was covered with Cedar bark and loaded with stones. Near it in a scaffold were suspended two canoes, and a pole from which were suspended [word indecipherable], stripes of leather, several baskets &c. (Fraser 1960:94)

June 24. Secured two canoes by trading. By canoe for one mile, then a carrying place of 800 yards. Passed Indian camp. Arrived at portage

with steep hills at both ends, where we experienced some difficulty in carrying the things. Ran down the canoes; but about the middle of the rapids two of them struck against one another, by which accident one of them lost a piece of its stern, and the steersman his paddle. . . . (Fraser 1960:94)

Repaired canoe. In evening arrived at Indian village of some 500 persons at some distance up the hill. Received from them "fresh salmon, hazlenuts, and some other nuts of an excellent quality. The small pox was in the camp, and several of the Natives were marked with it."

June 25. Embarked.

After going a considerable distance, our Indians ordered us a shore, and we made a portage. Here we were obliged to carry up among loose Stones in the face of a steep hill, over a narrow ridge between two precipices. Near the top where the ascent was perfectly perpendicular, one of the Indians climbed to the summit, and with a long pole drew us up, one after another. This took three hours. Then we continued our course up and down, among hills and rocks, and along the steep declivities of mountains, where hanging rocks, and projecting cliffs at the edge of the bank made the passage so small as to render it difficult even for one person to pass sideways at times.

Many of the natives from the last camp, having accompanied us, were of the greatest service to us on these intricate and dangerous occasions. In places where we were obliged to hand our guns from one to another, and where the greatest precaution was required to pass even singly, the Indians went through boldly with loads. (Fraser 1960:95)

Encamped at a rapid. On opposite bank an Indian fishing for salmon "with a dipping net." Fraser's Indian companions netted five salmon.

June 26. Continued portage, passing "over huge rocks," assisted by Indians. Determined navigation of river below to be "absolutely impracticable."

As for the road by land we scarcely could make our way in some parts even with our guns. I have been for a long period among the Rocky Mountains, but have never seen any thing equal to this country, for I cannot find words to describe our situation at times. We had to pass where no human being should venture. Yet in those places there is a regular footpath impressed, or rather indented, by frequent travelling upon the very rocks. And besides this, steps which are formed like a ladder, or the shrouds of a ship, by poles hanging to one another and crossed at certain distances with twigs and withes [tree boughs], suspended from the top to the foot of precipices, and fastened at both ends to stones and trees, furnished a safe and convenient passage to the Natives -- but we, who had not the advantages of their experience, were often in imminent danger, when obliged to follow their example. (Fraser 1960:96)

(Editor's note: Fraser was here in the Hell's Gate and Black Canyon area.) In evening was ferried across river to Indian camp where spent night. People still of Hacamaugh "nation," although "some men of a neighboring nation called achinrow [i.e., Tait tribe or perhaps more generally Upper Stalo Halkomelem] were with them." Promised canoes for next day by villagers.

But the canoes being above the rapids, some of the young men went for them. It being impossible to bring them by land, or to get them down by water, they were turned adrift and left to the mercy of the current. As there were many shouls [shoals] and rocks the canoes were in the greatest danger of being broken to pieces before they got to the end of the rapids. (Fraser 1960:97)

June 27. Indians of village sang and danced. Indians carried part of baggage over a "route . . . as bad as yesterday." Came to the canoes that had been set adrift: one broken and the other much damaged. Repaired canoes. Some men with baggage embarked; rest walked. Came to a small camp of about 60 persons at a place called Spazum [Spuzzum] on the boundary line between the Hacamaugh and Ackinroe

Nations. Here as usual we were hospitably entertained, with fresh Salmon boiled and roasted, green and dried berries, oil and onions.

Seeing tombs of a curious construction at the forks [the mouth of Spuzzum Creek] on the opposite [West] side, I asked permission of the Chief to go and pay them a visit. This he readily granted, and he accompanied us himself. These Tombs are superior to anything of the kind I ever saw among the savages. They are about fifteen feet long and of the form of a chest of drawers. Upon the boards and posts are carved beasts and birds, in a curious but rude manner, yet pretty well proportioned. These monuments must have cost the workmen much time and labour, as they were destitute of proper tools for the execution of such a performance. Around the tombs were deposited all the property of the deceased. (Fraser 1960:97-98)

Spent the night here in the downrivermost village of the Hacamaugh [Lower Thompson].

At this point Fraser moved into the country of the Tait group and so need not be followed farther in his downstream travels.

In July of 1808 Fraser (1960:114-118) and his party returned up the Fraser River heading homeward and so once again passed through Lower Thompson territory. In this account ethnographically interesting details are fewer.

July 8, 1808. Heading up the canyon from its southern terminus, met at the northern end of the first portage by two canoes from the Hacamaugh Nation. Borrowed these canoes while their Indian owners went on foot up to their village. At village received plenty to eat. Entertained "with a variety of songs, dances, &c. during the evening." (Fraser 1960:115-116)

July 9. Went by trail until met by two canoes sent out to meet him from next village. At village was given

two excellent dogs which made delicious meals for the men, besides fish and berries in abundance. Here we procured a few articles of curiosity; viz., a blanket of Dog's hair, a matted bag, a wooden comb of curious construction &c. Among these Indians we observed a variety of tools, pieces of Iron and of brass, a bunch of brass keys which were from the crew of a ship that the Indians of the sea had destroyed several years before. (Fraser 1960:116)

July 10. [Fraser's account of this day is of singular interest for its description of the simple but effective Indian climbing framework. He might be accused of some level of fabrication or at least exaggeration were it not for the impressively similar account of Mayne (see below).]

Kept the left side of the river accompanied by several Indians who shewed us the way. The road was inconceivable bad. We had to pass many difficult rocks, defiles and precipices, through which there was a kind of beaten path used by the natives, and made passable by means of scaffolds, bridges and ladders so peculiarly constructed, that it required no small degree of necessity, dexterity and courage in strangers to undertake a passage through such intricacies of apparent danger as we had to encounter on this occasion. For instance we had to ascend precipices by means of ladders composed of two long poles placed upright and parallel with sticks crossways tied with twigs. Upon the end of these others were placed, and so on for any height. Add to this that the ladders were often so slack that the smallest breeze put them in motion -- swinging them against the rocks -- while the steps were so narrow and irregular leading from scaffold to scaffold, that they could scarcely be traced by the feet without the greatest care and circumspection; but the most perilous was, when another rock projected over the one you were leaving. The Indians deserve our thanks for their able assistance through these alarming situations.

The descents were still worse. In these places we were under the necessity of trusting all our things to the Indians, even our guns were handed from one to another. Yet they thought nothing of these difficulties, but went up and down these wild places with the same agility as sailors do on board of a ship.

After escaping innumerable perils in [the] course of the day we encamped about sunset. The Indians tried to fish, but caught nothing; they, however, supplied us with plenty of dried fish. (Fraser 1960:116-117)

July 11. Continued on the route. Crossed a rapid river upon a bridge, and soon after came to end of portage where found three canoes in which those who were lame embarked. Others continued by land. Arrived at village where slept on June 24. Were favored by Indians with plenty of provisions. Camped at village. (Fraser 1960:117)

July 12. Procured "a sufficiency of fish" and set out. Those who were indisposed traveled by canoe; others who went by land had to use the canoes now and then to ferry across [side] rivers. Left canoes at portage.

July 13. Received 40 salmon as gifts; young men sent by chief to carry them. Chief reported "the Indians above were poor." [He was obviously speaking of the Upper Thompson above the canyon where salmon fishing was less productive.] Unable to secure canoes, but "Indians assured us that the rapids were too strong to use them with advantage." Passed a village where the Indians were poor and yet shared what little they had. (Fraser 1960:118)

July 14. Passed very treacherous rapids where party had such a narrow escape on June 20. Arrived at confluence of Thompson River. (Fraser 1960:118)

So much for relevant sections of Fraser's account. The difficulties of both the land trail along the canyon bottom and the water route through the Lower Thompson country at least during the summer high water are convincingly documented. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that intervillage social relations within the Lower Division homeland were not altogether close. On the other hand, during the winter season when the river water was at its lowest, it was possible for canoes to navigate the entire length of the Lower Thompson canyon stretch, though "always attended with considerable danger" (Mayne 1862:104). When the Fraser was low, cedar canoes were occasionally taken for trading purposes up the river from the Halkomelem country to the Lower Thompson village of Spuzzum, just above the lowest bad segment of the canyon rapids (Duff 1952:16).

In early October, 1828, Sir George Simpson (1947:36-39), searching for a practicable fur route by canoe from the interior to the sea as an alternative to the Columbia River route, descended the Fraser River from the Thompson River confluence. His narrative -- not a daily mile-by-mile journal like that of Fraser -- tells us nothing about the riverside trails, but it convincingly recounts his difficulties in negotiating the distance by canoe and boat, even though he had with him "three of the most skilful Bowsmen in the country, whose skill however was of little avail at times." His colorful description of this two-day journey and of the Lower Fraser people whom he encountered deserves quotation.

[Almost immediately on leaving the Thompson River mouth] the character and appearance of the navigation became totally changed, assuming those of the very worst parts of Thompsons River; every new reach, as we descended, bringing to view fresh and more alarming dangers. The banks now erected themselves, into perpendicular Mountains of Rock from the Waters edge, the tops enveloped in clouds, and the lower parts dismal and rugged in the extreme; the descent of the Stream very rapid, the reaches short, and at the close of many of them, the Rocks . . . overhanging the foaming Waters, pent up, to from 20 to 30 yds. wide, running with immense velocity and momentarily threatening to sweep us to destruction. In many places, there was no possibility of Landing to examine the dangers to which we approached, so that we were frequently, hurried into Rapids before we could ascertain how they ought to be taken, through which the craft shot like the flight of an Arrow, into deep whirlpools . . . leaving our water logged craft in a sinking state. In this manner, the greater part of two Days was occupied, in which, we only made about 70 miles distance, as much time was lost in communicating with the Natives, who were exceedingly numerous and perfectly amazed and much terrified at seeing us, yet shewed no hostility, . . . Salmon, are innumerable and easily taken in those Rapids during the Fishing Season, and this accounts for the great population who house themselves in the Caverns & chasms of the Rocks, out of which on the least alarm being given . . . scores of Naked Wretches poped out, where a moment before there was not the least appearance of our being near the residence of man. Among the whole of this population of several thousand Souls, we saw no more than two or three Guns, but the men were all armed with Bows & Arrows, and either Bone or Iron bludgeons, and men, Women and children, had each a Knife attached by a leather thong to one of their wrists. A Leather or Dog hair waist band, was the only article of dress they wore, many dispensed even with that, and the only Fur we saw among them, was one piece of Beaver coating, and a few Siffleur [marmot] or Ground Hog Skins. (Simpson 1947:37-38)

An independent, more detailed, but less vivid record of this river voyage, in this instance in field journal form, was kept by Archibald McDonald (see Simpson 1947:xxxi-xxxiv). While strong on river conditions and navigational details, it furnishes little ethnographic information. Accordingly, nothing further need be said of it here beyond the fact that it corroborates Simpsons' resume of the perils of the journey.

The serious difficulties encountered by Simpson in navigating the Fraser Canyon were sufficient to convince him at last of the impracticability of the Hudson's Bay Company using this waterway to carry its peltries to the coast and its supplies from the sea to the interior. Yet it must have been used to some extent since Mayne (1862:96) reports that Fort Yale, at the southern end of the canyon, "was selected by the . . . Company as a convenient resting-place before commencing the arduous ascent of the Canons, and where, having come down, they might dry the furs and skins that had got wet in the passage."

In May, 1859, Mayne (1862:97, 104-109) traveled by land from Yale to Lytton and discovered, as did Fraser, the great dangers of the trail, especially in the two very narrow canyon stretches. His account provides no ethnographically significant information save for its description of the trails.

The "Little Canon," beginning just upstream from Yale, was about five or six miles long; the "Upper Canon," which commenced almost immediately above the upriver end of the little narrows, was six or eight miles in length. At least in 1859 there were three trails, sometimes merging in various ways for some distance. The lowest trail, a narrow one, was passable only when the river water was very low, "at which time there is a ledge of boulders along the bottom of the cliff, over which a rough path was carried." The middle trail "passed along from ledge to ledge, at a height ranging from 50 to 800 feet above the river." When the lowest path was blocked by rock jutting out into the river, the traveler was compelled to scramble up to the middle trail. These two routes crossed from the west side of the Fraser to the east at the mouth of Anderson River. The highest trail, which in Mayne's day had become the "Mule Trail," led up a considerable height and through a gorge between the two mountains, returning to the river again between the two canyons. This "road," blocked by snow during seven or eight months of the year, passed from the west to the east bank of the river at the Indian village of Spuzzum. Mayne's path led along the lowest trail whenever possible, but, blocked by some rock bluff projecting out into the river, he was forced constantly to climb to the middle path.

The mode of rounding these cliffs, which literally overhang the river, is peculiar, . . . There are two or three of them, the trail coming up to them on one side, and continuing again on the other. . . . [P]assing the intervening space . . . was managed by the Indians thus: they suspended three poles by native rope, made of deer-hide and fibre, and from the top of the cliff, the inner end of the first and third resting on the trail, and the middle one crossing them on the front of the bluff. Of course there was nothing to lay hold of, and the only way was for the traveller to stretch out his arms and clasp the rock as much as possible, keeping his face close against it; if he got dizzy, or made a false step, the pole would, of course, swing away, and he would topple over into the torrent, which rolled hundreds of feet beneath. The land-slips in the mountain crevices are also very dangerous. Several times we had to make an ascent of about 200 feet up a land-slip, at an angle of quite 35°, in loose sand, and with nothing to check our downward progress if the sand should slip quicker than we could scramble over. The most dangerous of these . . . is called the Jackass Mountain. Several people have lost their lives in crossing this . . . [dangerous stretch].

This mountain rises abruptly out of the river, and the old trail leads across the face of it. To pass it several land-slips, of twenty or thirty yards wide, and at an angle of about 50°, had to be crossed. To do this the traveller had to make a bolt from the rocky ledge on one side to that on the other; and if he chanced to get dizzy, or the land slipped away with him, he must inevitably be lost. (Mayne 1862:106-107)

Remarkably the Lower Fraser people, carrying their heavy loads, passed along these great and dizzying hazards with wonderful ease.

Indian parties traveling between the upper Halkomelem country south and southwest of the Lower Thompson group and the bands of the Upper Thompson on the lower Thompson River had two possible routes that by-passed the Fraser Canyon dangers. One left the Fraser at the mouth of the Coquihalla, a stream noted for its trout, and led up this river. Perhaps where travelers left this stream and what path they took northward depended on their ultimate destination. But one track ran up the north branch of the Coquihalla, over to the south fork of Anderson River, down it and up its north fork, over to a tributary of the Nicola River, and finally down to the Thompson River. This entire route, save for a very short distance at the Coquihalla mouth, lay within Thompson country, the southern portion in that of the Lower Thompson. (Mayne 1862:67,108)

An alternative by-pass route ran to the west of the canyon. It branched off the Fraser at the Harrison River confluence, went north by Harrison Lake, Lillooet River, and Lillooet Lake, passed over to Anderson Lake and Seton Lake, and then descended the "Inkumtch River" to the Fraser River. Here it joined the north-south trail from the Chilcotin confluence on the north to the Thompson River junction on the south. This route was wholly outside the Thompson homeland, except to the extent that the territory claimed by the Lower Thompson included a stretch of the eastern shore of Harrison Lake (Figure 3-1). (Mayne 1862:67, 93-94, 132-138)

To return to the Lower Thompson and their travel routes within their territory, trails obviously led southward from the Fraser Canyon to the Ross Lake sector, for the Division claimed this area as their hunting-gathering country, although, according to Collins (1974a:14-15), the Upper Skagit likewise considered it theirs. Lower Division parties crossed from a tributary of the Fraser River to "one of the northern headwaters of the Skagit River. They came in the winter on snowshoes and sometimes stayed through the summer to hunt and fish" (Collins 1974a:14-15, 66). Neither tributary is named and it appears rash to guess as to the streams in question. In part, the problem hinges on Collins' identification of her "Thompson" as having "lived . . . on the Thompson River, . . . and on the Nicola River This would, of course, make them Upper Thompson, who, Teit's data (Figure 3-1) documents, laid no claim to the northern part of the Skagit Valley, not the much nearer Lower Thompson. It seems probable that Collins is merely locating the Thompson in a general way by reference to the main body of the tribe, with no intention of specifying a particular Thompson subdivision. Even assuming that it was the Lower Thompson to which Collins' informant alluded, whether she realized it or not, the data are too imprecise to permit an identification of the watercourses mentioned.

Trails also led through and out of the Lower Thompson area. An important route to the east, particularly after the arrival of the horse, cut through the heart of their hunting and gathering territory. It ran up the Coquihalla Valley from the Fraser and over to the headwaters of the Similkameen. It passed down this stream to the Okanagan River in Okanagan tribal territory (Figure 3-1). In the Coquihalla gorge through the Manson Range the snow lay deep for many winter months, which later made the route impassable to Hudson's Bay Company pack trains during this period. (Mayne 1862:95, 387; Teit 1930b:250) This heavy snow cover, however, evidently created no serious problems for Lower Thompson winter travelers. As already noted, they were snowshoe people, with even special mountain-adapted footgear. Further, as just reported, parties of Thompson -- surely specifically Lower folk -- wearing snowshoes chose to journey in winter to the Skagit Valley-Ross Lake region.

A number of other trails ran wholly or in part through Upper Thompson country to the north of that of the Lower Division. The following is certainly not an exhaustive roster of these.

One trail led overland from the lower Thompson River to the Kamloops area, where the North and South Thompson Rivers joined. This route, followed by Mayne (1862:111-115) in 1859, left the Thompson at the mouth of the "Nicowameen River," about 9 miles above Lytton, crossed over to the Nicola River, followed this stream up to Nicola Lake, and moved along a chain of small lakes roughly northward to the Fraser in the Kamloops vicinity, just over the boundary in Shuswap territory (Figure 3-1). To travel by this path was shorter than to go up the Thompson River all the way, cutting off the long Ashcroft river bend, and, moreover, it avoided a difficult stretch of the riverside trail below Kamloops.

A route from Lytton up the Thompson River to Kamloops in Shuswap country was an important one, particularly in prehorse times. Trade items of southern provenience were brought by a well-traveled path northward to Kamloops from the Okanagan homeland, traveling via Okanagan Lake, the Spellumcheen River, Shuswap Lake, and the South Thompson River. The Kamloops-Lytton trail then took these goods down to the Upper Thompson. This line of travel was notable especially in early times because it was largely a water path and because it avoided the country of the Nicola, who were enemies of the Okanagan and Southern Okanagan in these prehorse years. (Teit 1930b:250, 252)

Later, with the availability of horse transport and the relaxation of hostilities between the Nicola and the Thompson and then between the Nicola and the Okanagan and Southern Okanagan, the overland Okanagan Thompson trail via the head of the Nicola River and the cross-country Southern Okanagan-Thompson route via the Similkameen and Nicola Rivers gained significantly in importance. In both cases the trails led through open, well-grassed terrain with no physical barriers. Through increased use of these horse trails the Upper Thompson gradually became the principal recipients of influence from the south and southeast, taking over this position from the Shuswap. (Teit 1930b:252, 253)

Among the Lower Thompson, trails followed by a person or party were marked in various ways to inform those behind. For example, limbs were broken so as to point in the direction taken or stakes were pushed into the ground in an inclined position for this same purpose. (Ray 1942:190)


In early days the Lower Thompson carried on considerable trade with the Upper Thompson as well as with other neighboring tribes both toward the coast and in the interior.

With the Upper Thompson trade was almost entirely with members of the Lytton band, the group immediately up the Fraser River from them. Similarly people from the Spences Bridge band of the Upper Thompson on the lower Thompson River just upstream from the Lytton band, rarely came down into Lower Fraser country. The Lytton group were middlemen, passing on to other Upper Fraser bands goods acquired from the Lower Division and trading to these latter people items they had secured from the other three Upper bands as well as from tribes to the north and east of them. This pattern of restricted contact between Upper and Lower Thompson was partly the consequence of the great difficulty of moving into and through the river territory of the Lower people. But it was also the result of the Upper Division view that the Lower group was inferior to them. (Teit 1900:178)

To the Upper Thompson Lytton band, the Lower Thompson people traded dried salmon, smoked salmon- heads, salmon grease, dried huckleberries, hazelnuts, cedar bark, wood of different kinds for making pipe- stems, a special wood for fashioning bows, black-tailed deer skins for moccasins, woven mountain-goat hair blankets, baskets, cedar canoes, white vegetable paint, and red paint made of a fungus growing on hemlock trees. (The inclusion of hazelnuts in the above catalog is curious because, according to Turner [1978:126-128), the Lower Thompson imported these nuts both from the Halkomelem tribes downriver and also from the Upper Thompson, "who gathered them in large numbers.") In return, the Lower Thompson received from this Lytton band dried roots (e.g., bitterroots, wild carrots), berries (especially serviceberries, soap-berries, and wild currants), buckskins, Indian hemp for making thread and string, bighorn sheep spoons, buffalo-skin bags, bags of Indian hemp twine, mats, dentalium shells, red ocher, pipes, and tobacco. (Teit 1900:190, 232, 233, 259)

From the Lillooet to their west, the Lower Thompson frequently imported stone hand-hammers used in driving elk-antler wedges in woodworking. These had a smooth cylindrical center, tapering toward the upper end, for the hand hold, a slightly enlarged upper end, and an enlarged lower "business" end but not the heavy termination of the typical nearby Plateau hammer. It was rather the hammer style of the Indians of Vancouver Island. (Teit 1900:183)

From Spuzzum at the southern end of Lower Thompson territory travel was relatively easy on down the Fraser. Accordingly, intercourse with near Halkomelem groups below them was not infrequent. To these tribes toward the coast, the Lower Thompson sold dried salmon; dried mountain goat meat; deer, elk, and mountain goat fat; wild lily roots and other roots; dried soapberries, serviceberries, and huckleberries; "moss cakes" (i.e., black tree-lichen cakes): dressed deer and elk skins; Indian hemp twine; cedar-root baskets; mountain goat skins and wool; and dentalia. In return the Lower Thompson received dried dog-salmon (i.e., chum salmon), sturgeon oil, rush mats, a grass variety, canoes, and abalone shells. (Teit 1900:178, 259)

The references to dentalia in the above lists call for comment. On the surface it seems very odd that the Lower Thompson would receive dentalia from the Upper Thompson and then trade these shells downriver to coastal (or near coastal) people, when the shells were of coastal origin in the first place. But the Upper Thompson are reported to have received their supply from the Shuswap to the north, who got theirs from the Chilcotin and Carrier to their west and northwest (Teit 1900:259). Evidently what we have here is a kind of trade loop that was structured rather like this: From the Nootka source on outer Vancouver Island the shells went to the mainland coast opposite the northern end of the island, then inland to the Chilcotin and Carrier, to the Shuswap, then to the Upper Thompson and Lower Thompson, and so on down the Fraser River to the coast opposite the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

In early days prior to the arrival of the horse, the Thompson traded very little with the Okanagan and Southern Okanagan. It appears to have been confined to the bartering chiefly of salmon pemmican and dentalia for Indian hemp and dressed skins. (Teit 1930b:253-254)

After horses were secured the Thompson had considerable intercourse with the Okanagan and evidently Southern Okanagan also, and trade increased appreciably. Occasionally the Lower Thompson at Boston Bar (Figure 3-1) were visited by Okanagan parties. To them the Lower people traded dried salmon in exchange for wild carrot and bitterroot roots, dried berries, and dressed buffalo and deer skins. To at least some extent, Thompson bartering parties journeyed eastward to the Okanagan country. To the Okanagan the Thompson "gave" especially dried salmon (as noted for the Lower Division people above), salmon oil, salmon pemmican, one or two kinds of roots, coiled baskets, dentalia, and some greenstone or "jade" celts, stone pestles, and stone hammers; occasionally even a slave. From the Okanagan the Thompson received in return mainly camas, horses, dressed bison skins and robes, dressed moose skins (rarely caribou skins), painted bison hide bags, parfleches, woven bags of the Nez Perce type, and shell and bone beads from down the Columbia. (Teit 1900:259, 1930b:217, 237, 253-254, 277)

The Thompson traded coiled basketry also to the Nicola, who themselves wove no such baskets. From the Nicola they secured red paint, or Thompson parties journeyed themselves to Tulameen Forks or Vermilion to collect the ocher. These Athapaskan-speaking people claimed to have borrowed their "bow-shaped" style of root-digger handle of ram's horn from the Thompson. (Teit 1930b:223, 240, 254)

Wild sunflower roots were acquired by the Lower Thompson in trade, since the plant was not native to their country. Interestingly, they were unable to barter fern and certain other of their food roots to the Upper Thompson, because the people of that division did not care for them. The Thompson are reported to have secured dried moose, caribou, antelope, and buffalo meat through trade, these animals not occurring in their territory, but the extent to which the Lower Thompson specifically participated in this exchange is not indicated. (Teit 1900:230, 260)

There was no formal medium of exchange among the Lower Thompson. However, dentalia in fathom lengths served as an informal medium. At least some of the above-mentioned native trade articles were packaged and exchanged in units, demonstrating a measure of standardization in such transactions. Indian hemp, for example, was put up in bundles about two feet long and two inches in diameter; six bundles equaled one "package." Dried salmon was assembled in packages of 100 fish, this unit comprising one "stick." (Ray 1942:190; Teit 1900:260; cf. Mayne 1862:299)

Intertribal Marriage

The only Upper Thompson band with which the Lower Thompson intermarried to any extent was the Lytton group on the Fraser and lower Thompson River immediately upstream from the Lower Division village of Si'ska. To the south the situation was somewhat different, at least for the people of the village of Spuzzum, the downrivermost community of the Lower Thompson close to the exit of the canyon. For these folks communication with "the villages of the Coast Salish [i.e., Halkomelem below them on the Fraser] was fairly easy, and consequently . . . intermarriages were not infrequent." (Teit 1900:178; see also 179)

The extent of intermarriage in traditional times with other Indian tribes to the west (like the Lillooet) is not indicated in the ethnographic accounts as I know them. However, to the east the Thompson occasionally married with Okanagan, especially those living in the more northern sectors of Okanagan country. Also, after friendly relations were established, they intermarried to some extent with the Athapaskan-speaking Nicola of the Nicola River and Lake and the Similkameen regions. (Teit 1930b:213, 215, 216, 223, 244) It is not surprising that intertribal marriage, at least among the Lower Thompson, was relatively uncommon considering the fact that, according to Teit (1900:178), even the villages of this Lower Division themselves "had little intercourse with one another, owing to the difficulty of travel in the Fraser Canon."


The weapons of the Lower Thompson were bow and arrow, spear, knife or dagger, and war club. The bow was of the ordinary kinds as described in the Hunting section. War arrows were generally provided with barbed points and were sometimes fitted with detachable barbed foreshafts of antler or bone. The points were inserted in the shaft in a line parallel to the nock so as to enter between the enemy's ribs more easily, the bow ordinarily being held horizontally in shooting. They were "poisoned" with the juice of the flowers of the toxic baneberry, a preparation from certain roots, or with rattlesnake venom(?). Some warriors named their arrows after fierce animals or birds and painted these figures on the arrow shafts. The spears -- thrust, not thrown -- varied from 3 to 6 feet in length, shorter ones being preferred in wooded country. They were fitted with large stone points, at the base of which feathers were sometimes attached for ornamentation. The knife or dagger was of stone and double-edged. The club commonly consisted of a round stone encased in a thick hide and fastened to a handle; this handle was attached to the man's hand and wrist by a thong. In another type, if Hill-Tout understood correctly, the stone head was sewed in the center of an elk-hide strip, the ends of the hide being left to swing the weapon by. Clubs of stone, elk antler, bone, or wood, varying somewhat in their form, were also in use. Some of these wooden clubs were studded with stone or horn (antler?) spikes, according to Hill-Tout, and held to the wrist by a thong. To the preceding weapons roster of Teit save as indicated, confirmed at many points for the Lower Thompson by Ray, should be added the willow bark slingshot as both a man's weapon and a child's plaything. (Hill-Tout 1900:502; Ray 1942:152-153; Teit 1900:241, 243, 263-265)

Passing through the canyon home of the Lower Thompson in October of 1828, Simpson (1848:38) saw from his watercraft many members of this tribe at their salmon stations. Concerning their offensive weapons he notes: "Among the whole of this population of several thousand Souls, we saw no more than two or three Guns, but the men were all armed with Bows & Arrows, and either Bone or Iron bludgeons, and men, Women and children, had each a Knife attached by a leather thong to one of their wrists."

Defensive protection was secured through the use of the cuirass, vest, and tunic. The cuirass, extending from shoulder to hip, consisted of two flat boards in front and the same in back, laced together and covered with thick elk hide. The vest, which encircled the body, was of rods or narrow wooden strips, arranged vertically and bound together with bark strings; it was covered with elk skin, often fringed, ornamented with feathers, or painted with animal or geometric designs as instructed in dreams. Heavy tunics of elk hide, soaked in water before being worn, were also used for arrow protection. Whether the rawhide shield was part of the Lower Thompson defensive equipment is unclear: it was not used according to Teit, though common among the Upper Division bands; a round rimless rawhide shield was in use by the Lower group according to Ray. At any rate, the wooden or rod shield, also a common device among the Upper people, was clearly not a Lower Division artifact. (Hill-Tout 1900:502; Ray 1942:153-154; Teit 1900:265-266)

On the point of whether Thompson villages were ever stockaded the data differ. Hill-Tout (1900:500, 502) gives as a name for an old Upper Division village on the Fraser above Lytton a term translatable as "palisaded enclosure containing houses." (This village is not listed by Teit [1900:171-172] in his extensive Thompson settlement roster.) In contrast, Teit (1900:266), whose data I generally favor over Hill-Tout's, states that stockaded settlements seem not to have been a Thompson cultural pattern. On the other hand, small, heavy log-houses near major rivers were, Teit reports, not unknown among the tribe. These were largely covered with brush and earth, though they were provided with loopholes for shooting at attackers. Each had two or more long, low trench entrances, covered thickly with sticks, brush, and earth. Provisioned with food and water, they were impregnable: raiding parties were not equipped to lay seige in enemy country. Whether the Lower Thompson as well as the Upper Division constructed these structures is not made clear. (Teit 1900:266-267)

In early days, the Thompson often mounted raids on other tribes, although true tribal warfare was very rare. These expeditions, carried out by small parties or occasionally by groups of several hundred men often against the wishes of the chief, were for material plunder and slaves, adventure, and prestige, or to avenge murder, injury, witchcraft, or insults to chiefs or women. A dance was held in the village to generate support for the hostilities and to attract additional participants. To be an able fighter, specific spirit power was considered essential; any such man could lead a raid. Before the attack the raiders painted themselves and their clothing, red and black being the favored colors. The central technique was to surprise the enemy by stealthy early morning attack or "sudden onslaught," sometimes involving both treachery and what might be regarded as considerable cruelty. Bird and animal calls were used in directing the party's actions. Houses were burned; scalps -- occasionally even entire heads -- were taken; young boys and girls were seized as prisoners and slaves. Sometime later formal negotiations were held through intermediaries to arrange a settlement, but the material spoils were retained by those who had taken them. On the other hand, captives from other tribes were sometimes sent home to carry the news of the slaughter by the Thompson of their companions. (Ray 1942:224-228; Teit 1900:267, 1930c:407)

The party was under the direction of an experienced leader. Spies were sent ahead to watch the camp to be attacked. Little food was taken along and as few fires as possible were lighted. Minimum clothing was worn; the face and often the upper body were painted in red or in red and black. Communication was by signals, signs, and animal calls. Armor was donned by some men before the attack. Generally the leader divided the booty and slaves. Some scalping and even beheading occurred, these relics usually being soon discarded though sometimes scalps or hair were retained to ornament weapons or clothing. (Teit 1900:267-268)

The Lower Thompson were generally regarded, both by themselves and by others, as less hostile than the Upper Division groups. This was especially the case for their lower bands, which maintained amicable relations with all their neighbors and were seldom attacked by them. The more upriver bands of the Lower Thompson, however, were raiders, sometimes sending parties against the Lower Lillooet (see Figure 3-1), who had large stores of fish and other goods, and frequently against coastal tribes of the Fraser delta, often in company with Upper Thompson warriors. These coastal people seldom retaliated, even though it was from these people that the Lower Thompson took their slaves, largely young women, most of whom were sold by their captors when they reached home. From time to time, however, the Lower Lillooet crossed the mountain range to retaliate against the Lower Thompson, in spite of the fact that these Lillooet were generally considered to be unskilled fighters. Apparently Lower Thompson raiders rarely went north to the Shuswap country; in contrast, Upper Thompson relations with these Shuswap were often, perhaps typically, hostile (e.g., Teit 1930b:269). The Lower Thompson were on friendly terms with the Okanagan to their east: when hunting parties met in the mountains presents were invariably exchanged. This, however, was not always the case with the Upper Thompson, parties of which in the real old days sometimes attacked the more northern of the Okanagan villages. Later, in the early 1800s, Thompson-Okanagan relations became very friendly, especially in the Similkameen Valley, where even extensive intermarriage occurred. When, on the other hand, Lower Thompson hunting groups encountered "Klickitat" hunters, fighting "always" ensued. (Teit 1900:268-270, 1930b:257, 265) By "Klickitat" in this context, Teit means the Upper Skagit (cf. Figure 3-1) and the region in question can only be the Ross Lake sector of the North Cascades Park complex; the Klikitat proper lived on the lower Columbia River (cf. Spier 1936:42-43).

Lower Thompson parties often met small groups of Athapascan Nicola when both were hunting in the Cascades "in the country back of Hope and Chilliwack." These contacts were always friendly. Quite plainly the geographical area involved was the region of the upper Skagit River north of the present international line. This latter point is indicated by the fact that the Nicola are reported to have never encountered "Klickitat -- i.e., Upper Skagit as above -- "who did not go so far north" as to come face-to-face with them. Thompson hunting and war parties, on the other hand, "sometimes went a long way south along the Cascades": i.e., as I interpret the statement, into the Skagit Valley and surrounding mountains south of the Canadian line. In contrast, long ago toward the end of the 1700s, before such intermarriage occurred, the Upper Thompson engaged in frequent forays against the Nicola in their homeland on the middle Nicola Valley and in the upper Similkameen country. (Teit 1930b:257)

The Lower Thompson were invariably on a friendly basis with the various Upper Thompson bands, no raiding occurring between them. On the other hand, bitter blood feuds developed very frequently between Thompson families over even trivial insults and quarrels, and one may presume that these intense misunderstandings came about from time to time between families in the two divisions. So common were these feuds, according to Teit (1900:270, 271), who lived among the tribe, that no man went unarmed, sentinels kept watch over some villages at night, in some places fires were extinguished in the evening, and no one was perfectly safe. Perhaps this was the state of affairs only in Teit's time, but he intimates that it was no less the aboriginal pattern.

Raids against enemies were serious matters with a spectrum of links to the non-material world. Especially important were efforts to enlist the assistance of the supernaturals and of the women relatives at home at a magical level. Before setting out, the men of the raiding party sweat-bathed for several days, asking their guardian spirits for success and protection. Dressed in feathers and paint and carrying their weapons, they danced a mimic battle with all its sounds and actions. While the party was gone, the wives, with painted faces and knives and sticks as weapons, danced in imitation of the fighting and supplicated their weapons to help their husbands kill the enemy. Only warriors with a scalp guardian spirit took and wore scalps, a guardian spirit that might be secured by washing in water in which arrowpoints had been placed. Men with a particular weapon as a tutilary were thought to be immune to injury by that weapon or, if injured, to have been able to recover quickly; they seldom wore armor in a fight. Warriors often smoked to the Sun, one of their favorite guardian spirits, and sometimes painted on their bodies and weapons patterns with some association with fighting. When a man killed an enemy, he blackened his face with charcoal to protect himself from the victim's spirit. (Teit 1900:356-357)


In this section are discussed the bonds of kinship among the Thompson and various segments of their cultural life that were closely linked to "blood" relationships, the bonds of geographical propinquity and the social groupings that existed in response to them, and inherited class stratification.

Kinship and Its Cultural Associations

The following pages describe the nature of kinship in the Thompson view, the family unit, names and the naming process, the concept of property and the inheritance pattern, and hospitality and the potlatch.

Kinship Bonds

Neither the village nor the cluster of villages that comprised the band was a fixed social unit in the sense of possessing a dedicated kin-linked population. Any person or family was free to move about within the tribe -- or at least division -- and take up residence as he or it chose. As noted below, no formal political authority existed within either the village or the band, much less the tribe. The strongest social links were those of actual kinship. There were no totemic clans among the Upper Thompson uniting persons who were bonded by fictive kin links as on the coast; only two small clans were represented among the southernmost Lower Thompson. These two families claimed clan membership and the right to use totemic masks, carvings, songs, and traditions on the grounds that they were related to families in the Tait tribe, just downstream from the Lower Thompson, which belonged to these coastal clans and hence possessed these rights and privileges. (Teit 1900:290)

Blood relationship was followed in both male and female lines for generations. Kin clusters owned their own family names which only members could use. Because these were inherited, every person who had the name had acquired it ultimately from the same ultimate common ancestor. One of the most important duties of kin was to avenge the death of a relative by organizing or participating in a punitive raid. (Teit 1900:290)


The family -- certainly the nuclear family -- was the basic social unit of production and consumption. Husband and wife formed a tight, cooperative, economic team, the customary division of labor placing certain essential duties in the hands of each so that together the critical needs of the family unit could be expeditiously met. Still, in many families some sharing of responsibilities occurred, if convenient to the person not normally expected to carry them out. Among the Upper Thompson the individual families owned the deer fences and fishing constructions that they themselves built. With the Lower Division it was the individual, rather than the family as a whole, who possessed the fishing and hunting constructions, or so Ray reports, but I suspect that this was largely a fiction and that in actual fact it was here also the family that effectively owned these subsistence objects. The father and oldest son directed the family affairs, "although custom required that they should not do anything of importance to the family without first consulting its other family members." Each "male member of age" had the right to express himself and offer his advice in family sessions. (Teit 1900:290)

Closely related families commonly formed cooperative social and economic units at a level immediately above that of the nuclear family. The occupants of a multifamily, semisubterranean winter dwelling or a large summer shelter were ordinarily related. Surely in the typical situation they had cooperated in its construction, though this statement is not to be found in the ethnographic records. At least in the underground lodge they shared the single central fire. Beyond this we know little of the customary functioning of this loose extended family unit: e.g., the degree to which food was pooled or later shared when eaten; to which they participated as a unit in religious ceremonies; to which they traveled together as a unit throughout the year as to root grounds during the summer season and into the mountains on hunting expeditions; to which they organized as a unit in raids in retaliation for injuries to a member family, and so on. But to some extent all of these cooperative interfamily activities must have taken place.

Names and Naming

Generally children received their first name after they could walk easily, a name taken from either the father's or mother's side and at least a year after the death of its former owner. Usually it was the nearest kin who assumed the name. The most honorable way of conferring a name was by holding a feast for neighbors for this specific purpose. Very few names were held by two persons in the tribe at the same time. People changed their names frequently, some having as many as four or five in the course of their lives. (Teit 1900:290-291)

Nicknames were common and new ones were continually being invented. These frequently referred to something that had happened to the person, to a prominent physical characteristic, to a dream event, to a guardian spirit. These also became heritable cognomens. Men's and women's names of this kind were distinct: many of the men's ended in suffixes meaning "day," "head," and "stone"; many of the women's terminated in "water" or "bow." Among the Lower Thompson, names referring to animals and plants were common; among the Upper Thompson they were far less frequent. (Teit 1900:291-292)

Most names differed somewhat in pronunciation from the ordinary words for whatever the names alluded to. They were normally either contracted or amplified. (Teit 1900:292)

Property and Inheritance

In general, the entire territory of the Thompson was considered common hunting, root-digging, berrying, and bark gathering country of all tribal members irrespective of their division or band affiliation. However, some restrictions prevailed as exceptions to general public ownership. Men of one band were not permitted to construct deer fences in the country of another band. Fishing constructions at salmon sites and mountain deer fences were the personal property of their builders and immediate families; golden eagle eyries were owned by their finders. (Hill-Tout 1900:504; Teit 1900:293-294) Ray (1942:231) provides data specifically for the Lower Thompson: individuals owned fishtraps, small weirs, and spearing platforms as well as hunting pitfalls, dead- falls, snares, and traps, rights to which were sometimes inherited. Title to other fishing sites was wholly by right of use.

There was even some overseeing of the tribal property restrictions. Among the Upper Thompson, for example, an old woman watched over important berry grounds to insure that no gathering occurred until the fruit was ripe; at that time any Thompson women were free to collect the berries anywhere in their country. But any non-Thompson without relatives within the tribe or without specific use permission who were caught hunting, trapping, or gathering subsistence resources within the recognized boundaries of the Thompson might be killed. (Teit 1900:293-294)

Inheritance of personal property on death apparently followed a rather loose pattern governed largely by practical circumstances. It was divided among the sons (and sometimes the daughters as well) or among all male and female relatives of age, or all the property was taken by the closest male relatives. More specifically, deer fences, fishing stations, and eagle nests were inherited in various ways by the male children, the eldest having the right of first selection. He might be expected to choose the fences if he was a hunter, leaving the fishing sites to the next brother. Or all brothers might henceforth use the property in common. If a man died without sons, the nearest male relatives took his hunting places; if he was without male kinsmen, his daughters and their husbands had the right to his property. Males inherited canoes and all hunting, fishing, and trapping implements. Dogs not killed went to the male children; horses were divided among sons and daughters. The possibilities and permutations seem virtually endless. At any rate, sons who inherited from their father had an obligation to look after their mother. (Teit 1900:292-293, 294)

A woman's effects were hers alone. If a separation occurred, she took all of her property with her, including the berries and roots that she had gathered. A widow with children inherited the lodge, all of the kettles, baskets, and cooking utensils, and some of the blankets and robes. (Teit 1900:292-293, 294)

Hospitality and the Potlatch

True potlatches, gift distributions in which formal return gifts were expected, were not an active Lower Thompson pattern, but in a dilute form they occasionally occurred. They were held indoors in the spring or fall over a two-day period. All families in the village contributed property to be given away. Visitors from other communities, sometimes with faces painted, approached the village ceremonially. On the second day the property was distributed to all present, both men and women. Each person was called individually by a spokesman, in the name of the host, who then described the gift, held aloft, for the audience. Interestingly, even the local villagers received gifts. Reciprocal presents were made on the same day. The festivity was concluded by a dance. Potlatches of this very simple form were introduced from the Thompson to the Okanagan, among whom, however, they never took hold. (Ray 1942:231-232; Teit 1930b:277)

Socio-Territorial Units: Village, Band, Division, Tribe

The social units of the Thompson with a land base are not properly described ethnographically in any organized manner. The following summarizes such data as exist, scattered in bits and patches through the literature.

The winter village consisted of a few dwellings with their associated structures. Approximate population figures do not exist, to my knowledge, for the several individual villages listed in the settlement catalogs of Teit and Hill-Tout. But, Teit (1900:192) notes, they rarely numbered more than three or four lodges and often only a single one. Since these semisubterranean structures sheltered from 15 to 30 people, the typical village would have had a population roughly of from 25 to perhaps 100 persons. From his observations in October, 1828, Simpson (1947:33) writes that on the lower Thompson River from below Kamloops Lake to the river's confluence with the Fraser the "population is numerous, forming themselves into Camps of 10 or 12 Families at the different Rapids, where they collect Salmon These data are not comparable to Teit's information, since Simpson's relate to the fall salmon season and the fisheries, not to the winter months. But his estimate of twelve families as a maximum in a single camp would seem to place the population of these largest groups at no more than 100 people. In the summer of 1808 Fraser (1960:92-94) encountered one "encampment" in the Fraser Canyon of "upwards [of] 500 souls," but a group of this magnitude may well have been a seasonal fishery aggregation from several winter villages or possibly even partly a collection of the curious drawn to a central point by the passage of his party.

Typically villages were composed of related families, yet these local units were fragile in the sense that individual families and households were free to relocate within the tribe as they preferred. Further, they were exclusively winter communities: during the remainder of the year the occupants scattered to hunt, fish, and collect plant products. In addition, because persons customarily married outside of their own village -- the natural consequence of the interlocking kin relationships of the component families and the prohibition against kin marriage alliances -- one of the partners in the union -- normally the wife -- faced relocation on a reasonably permanent basis. Moving to her husband's community, she became a recognized member of his village and band. If, on the other hand, the husband resided with his wife's people for a year and made his home mostly with them, he was considered a member of her village and band (Teit 1900:192, 325).

The village population comprised a social unit. In addition to the normal daily interaction between families, more formal visits, feasts, and gift exchanges were organized during the winter, in which families or family groups hosted each other. Owing to the interfamily marriage links, the village was to some degree an economic entity of production and consumption. For example, group hunts were carried out and the meat shared; a hunter favored with unusual success distributed meat among the other families in the village; and in deep winter families with plenty of stored food shared their supply with families running short. In a way a village was also a ceremonial group: its occupants carried out together the first salmon and first berry ceremonies each year. The village was likewise a loose political entity: a mild form of guidance in many areas of daily life was provided by one or more headmen, who exercised their benign leadership through the consent of the villagers and with their continued backing. The village was not, however, a property-holding entity or a clan node of the coastal variety.

In late precontact and early postcontact days, there were three certain band units -- village clusters -- within the Upper Thompson Division. With the tribal expansion in the 1800s into the middle Nicola and Similkameen regions at the expense of the Nicola tribe, a fourth band either expanded into a major band unit or then came into existence. These multivillage social composites were recognized as viable population entities by the Thompson themselves: each bore its own name. In general, the band through its individual component families exploited the fishing, hunting, and plant resources nearest its member villages, yet band men and women were free, if they chose, to pursue their subsistence quest anywhere within the tribal territory. To this freedom there was, however, one prominent exception: the members of one band could not erect deer fences in an area considered to be under the control of another band. Even less than the village, the band was not a political unit: there was no band headman save as some especially competent, revered, and powerful village head assumed this responsibility by consensus on some particular occasion. The extent to which the band as a unit played an active and recognizable role in Upper Thompson life is not reported, but it surely was minimal if it existed in any form. There were no bands among the Lower Thompson: evidently the group was too compacted and culturally homogeneous along their short stretch of the Fraser Canyon to develop such social subdivisions. Further, there was apparently far less social interaction among Lower Division villages than among the Upper Thompson: it was simply too difficult during much of the year to travel the trails along the bottom of the canyon wall and too dangerous to navigate by canoe the rapids, whirlpools, and very fast water in the river.

The two divisions of the tribe -- Upper with its villages primarily on the Fraser in the neighborhood of the Thompson confluence and on the lower Thompson River, and the Lower with its winter settlements and summer fisheries in the Fraser Canyon sector -- have been previously discussed. These too bore distinctive names. They differed slightly at a dialect level. Likewise they differed somewhat in their life style, partly in response to their differing ecological base and partly through their exposure to differing neighboring tribal constellations: predominantly to Plateau peoples for the Upper Thompson and to lower Fraser, coastal influenced groups for the Lower Division. Although once again hard data are wanting, it is obvious that, by and large, the people of one division experienced a higher level of social and cultural interaction than they had with persons in the other division. As with the band, so within the division there was no structured political leadership.

The Thompson tribe, composed of the above two divisions, has also been discussed earlier in this report. It is sufficient here to note that it was a named and so self-recognized unit; that its speech comprised a language unique to itself, unintelligible to all other Salishan tribes; that it regarded as theirs a block of territory with its varied, essential natural resources and defended this country against interlopers; that it, in general, shared these resources freely among its villages and bands; and that its people had more social interaction with one another than they had with the members of other tribes. It was also a peace group; neither the divisions nor the bands are known to have squabbled among themselves, although interfamily feuds occurred. It was not, however, a political unit in the sense that a tribal "chief" or tribal council existed and exerted an influence over the life and activities of tribal members.

Social Rank

Among the Thompson there were no formalized and recognized distinctions between nobility and commoners, although slavery was an accepted institution. Differences between individuals, slaves excepted, was on the basis of wealth and personal qualities and achievements. (Ray 1942:228; Teit 1900:289)

Slaves were acquired by Upper Thompson men both through participating in raids against other groups and taking captives and through the purchase of captives taken by members of other raiding parties.

When a captive woman bore children to her master, she was considered one of the tribe, and neither she nor her children were ever afterward called slaves, at least openly. Some captive children were treated well, and were even adopted into the family of their master, but other slaves were often treated cruelly. (Teit 1900:290)

In Lower Thompson villages the situation was evidently much the same except that slaves were numerous and the status was seemingly a trifle more rigidly circumscribed. One might conjecture that they were rather more useful and economically productive in these downriver, more sedentary fishing communities than among the more mobile Upper Division bands where hunting was substantially more important. According to Ray (1942:228-229), Lower Thompson slaves were owned primarily by rich men who captured some themselves, purchased others from other warriors in their own group, and imported some from the coast. They lived in their master's house. Still, they were permitted to marry only other slaves, their children sometimes but apparently not always retaining slave status. Occasionally, slaves were ransomed by their own people or traded by the Thompson to other tribes: e.g., to the Okanagan (Teit 1930b:277).


The ethnographic data concerning the life cycle of the Thompson are particularly rich in their coverage and detail. The following is nothing more than a summary of them.


Pregnancy tabus on both the woman and her husband were very numerous, all intended to avoid the unfortunate consequences of her condition. A woman pregnant for the first time had to bathe, sweat bathe, and pray often. She could not touch salmon or scratch herself with her fingers. Her hair had to be dressed in a prescribed style. Her husband, for his part, had to bathe, hunt, and pray frequently. Any expectant woman had to bathe often, exercise vigorously, and eat sparingly to aid in an easy delivery. (Ray 1942:191; Teit 1900:303)

Any pregnant woman was forced to observe a great number of specific restrictions on her activities, each designed to prevent harm to herself, her husband, or her unborn child. She could not eat hare lest the child be born with a harelip; or anything killed by a hawk or it would resemble the animal killed; or the meat of a black bear, porcupine, lynx, dog, marmot, or a particular variety of trout. She could not look at a snake or anything ugly, step on certain animal tracks, tie knots, or see a corpse without visiting a shaman for purification. And so on. (Ray 1942:191-192; Teit 1900:303-304)

The husband of any woman with child had his own restrictions to observe. He could not hunt black or grizzly bear, porcupine, hare, fool-hens (else the child would likewise be foolish), squirrel, and a number of other animals. Some animals he could not eat, and other actions he was expected to avoid. (Teit 1900:304)


A woman gave birth in a special hut summer and winter, remaining there for the following two months. Lying on her side and holding onto a rope placed in position for this purpose, she had her child, delivering it onto a mat placed on the ground. An experienced elderly woman, later paid with a blanket, was sometimes in attendance; often the woman was alone or with only her husband. The birth experience was usually a very easy one; even in very difficult cases, the mother was not permitted to cry out. If problems developed, the husband was expected to dive into a lake or stream and to follow this act by certain other specific actions intended to hasten the birth. In really troublesome and dangerous births, a shaman was summoned to exercise his skills. Immediately after the delivery, the Lower Thompson mother drank a concoction prepared from cedar. (Ray 1942:193-194; Teit 1900:304-305)

Among the Lower Division the afterbirth was buried by the midwife near water (Teit), or hung in a secluded tree in the forest (Ray). The navel cord was tied with something soft (like squirrel hair) and smeared with black-pine gum. Or, occasionally among the Lower Division, it was not tied but simply smeared with the gum and tule pollen. As soon as the birth had taken place, the father shot an arrow into the air to prevent the infant's navel from swelling. Later the navel cord was sewed up in buckskin, embellished with quills, and tied to the buckskin band that extended around the head of the cradle, from which jingling objects (bone beads, fawn hoofs, etc) were hung. (Ray 1942:195, 197, 199; Teit 1900:304-305)

Abortion was accomplished by drinking a certain substance, but was rare. Newly-born babies were occasionally drowned or strangled, a practice vigorously disapproved of. Twins were the object of special beliefs and practices: e.g., their mother was required to camp alone for some months; their father acquired a special relationship with bear, being immune, for example, from attack by grizzlies. Orphans were sometimes given to grandparents to raise. (Ray 1942:202; Teit 1900:305)

For four days following the birth, the mother did no cooking and kept away from the fire unless shielded from it by a mat. For 60 days a newly delivered Lower Thompson woman ate no boiled or roasted fresh food, no meat or sturgeon, and no fresh berries. For three or four months, she bathed mornings, drank dried salmon broth and herb tea, and kept herself separate from her husband. The new-born infant had its mouth cleansed, was washed in warm water in which bark had been boiled, and was sometimes smeared with a mixture of black-pine pitch and deer fat to prevent it from becoming a crying baby. (Ray 1942:196, 197, 198; Teit 1900:305)


Infants were bathed in baskets. When a few days old, a Lower Thompson infant was placed in a coiled basketry carrier shaped like an elongated basin with straight sides and rounded ends. Buckskin flaps were laced up to hold the child. A hoop at the head end, with hanging trinkets, kept a blanket from the infant's face. Carrying straps allowed the device to hang horizontally on the mother's back. The Lower Division also used carriers fashioned of black bear skin, hair side inward. Before receiving the baby, the carrier was lined with softened cedar bark. The baby itself was wrapped with softened fawn skin with the hair left on. Sometimes objects were placed with the child to magically quiet it and prevent it from urinating often. According to Ray, the Lower Thompson occasionally made use of a deep, trough-shaped, birch-bark cradle, stiffened around the edges. (Hill-Tout 1900:506-507; Ray 1942:197, 200, 201; Teit 1900:306-308, 1930b:279)

A very young infant was given tea and broth only if its mother proved incapable of nursing it. It received attention of a magical sort to encourage it to develop qualities admired in later life: e.g., the soles of its feet were rubbed with chipmunk feet to make it fleet of foot. A few Lower Thompson with coastal wives allowed their women to deform their children's head frontally with a strap and pad of cedar bark; otherwise among the Thompson this practice was derided. Customarily, however, moss was placed between the feet, the nose was pulled, the eyes were opened wide, and the whole body was massaged to make the infant's form assume the configuration considered desirable. (Ray 1942:171, 196; Teit 1900:308)

The father generally gave a feast to neighboring families. In this celebration the infant was blessed by an old man or woman. An infant was at once given a temporary name of the nickname variety. After a month or so, it received a family name, that of a living or deceased kinsman, in a family feast in which gifts were distributed. Much later in life this name might be dropped in favor of another family name bestowed by paternal or maternal relatives or even of a self-chosen family name. Among the Lower Thompson these later names were sometimes unusual, taken from animals, plants, or dreams. (Hill-Tout 1900:506; Ray 1942:223-224; Teit 1900:309, 1930b:277)


The outgrown cradle was hung in a tree some distance from the village, a new one always being made for each child. Once able to walk, a boy wore little or nothing; a girl, a breechcloth or robe. This was the pattern until puberty. Childhood was a time of great freedom. Children were, however, made to rise early and bathe all year-round to develop hardihood, and were forbidden to play after sunset and to make too much noise under pain of being carried away by Owl, which children greatly feared. (Boas 1975:2 of unpaginated introduction, Plate 22; Ray 1942:171, 201; Teit 1900:308, 309)

Children were often given to childless friends or to friends who had just lost a child of their own. They were reared well by these foster-parents and often thought more of them than of their real parents. (Teit 1900:308)

When a woman went up to the high mountains to dig roots or for some other reason, taking her child with her for the first time, she carried out a pattern of ritual acts. Because of the special interest of this present study in cultural behavior associated with high elevations, these details deserve to be quoted in full.

. . . [T]he first evening after reaching her digging ground she would break a branch from a tree, and hang her child in its carrier on the broken limb. She painted her whole face, and sometimes the top of her head, red, and danced there before the infant, sometimes all night. She put her hands close together, as if holding something, blew in them, and ran off some distance; then, opening them, she made the motion of throwing away something. This was symbolic of taking disease or evil from the infant, and throwing it far away. She prayed constantly to the spirits of the place, or to the mountains themselves, asking that her child might never be sick, and that, if it were ever bewitched, and no shaman were near to help, nevertheless it might not die, or that she herself might have power to defeat the evil. She also addressed the spirits of the mountains on her own behalf, kneeling down, spitting on her hands, and rubbing her body upward over the front to the face, then over the top of the head backward, meanwhile praying that she might be delivered from all disease or trouble, that she might never be hurt in body, or be bewitched, and that, if sick, she might get well soon. (Teit 1900:309)

Twice during each winter boys and girls, from about 8 years of age until married, underwent a ritual whipping by an old man who descended into the dwelling through the smoke-hole entrance. Children could be spared the thrashing by a woman pretending to pick berries from the man's whip, by a man taking the whipping himself, or by the children bravely going forward one by one and pretending to pick his berries while dancing before him and singing. If lashed, a child was struck four times on its bare back, drawing blood. This rite was intended to help children overcome their bashfulness, to make them courageous, and to enable them to withstand pain. (Teit 1900:309-310)

First and second-born children were thought to become poor hunters and to be generally unlucky. The youngest son was felt to be the luckiest. Twins were announced to a mother before their birth by repeated grizzly bear dreams. They were regarded as different from other children, being under the protection of the grizzly, and were treated differently in many ways. They were, for example, thought able to create at will good or bad weather. Their father and mother were required to observe special behavioral restrictions and to perform special acts. For instance, the mother always nursed the eldest first. The entire family was compelled to move some distance from their village and for four years to live there in a fir-bough and bark lodge. When the twins first cried, a young man was selected by the parents to carry out a rather complicated ritual involving the grizzly bear in various ways. (Teit 1900:309, 310-311)

The first animal killed by a Lower Thompson boy was the occasion for a simple ceremony in which the food was eaten by the old people, though the lad himself was allowed none (Ray 1942:134).


An incredible number of ritual proscriptions and prescriptions were associated with the attainment of puberty by both girls and boys, all with the purpose of making them healthy and successful and of protecting the community from the dangers of their condition at this time.

Girl's Puberty

On reaching puberty a girl was strictly separated from other people summer or winter, with her mother or close female relative serving as a kind of proctor. Sometimes her entire family moved into "the wilder parts of the mountains to give her a better opportunity to perform the required ceremonies." Otherwise she lived in a conical fir-branch and bark hut some distance from the village. During the day she squatted inside it, often in a deep hole. Her face was painted red; her hair was done up in a knot behind each ear; she used a bone scratching stick; she was wrapped in a heavy skin. For four nights she was forced to run hard, to split small fir trees, and to pray for a good husband. She dug long or deep trenches; wiped her eyes with small fir branches; remained unwashed; ate nothing; and drank water only through a hollow water-bird bone. She wore special clothing, including a fir-branch headdress. Inside her hut she sometimes wove baskets or engaged in ritual acts like picking needles off fir boughs; outside in the early morning or late evening, when she was least likely to be seen, she gathered firewood or ceremonially tied knots in tree limbs. Some nights she wandered to lonely parts of the mountains where she danced, prayed to the local spirits, and slept alone, all in search of a guardian spirit.

At the close of her isolation period she bathed ceremonially in a lake or stream, prepared her hair in a special way, and was escorted back to the village or camp by her mother. (Ray 1942:203-205; Teit 1900:311-313)

Even after the end of this four-day seclusion period, her ritual responsibilities continued in relation to eating, drinking, washing, praying, the clothing she wore, the paint she applied to her face, and a great deal more, many clearly symbolic of some desired future experience or condition. Again and again the Lower Thompson "pattern number" of four appears prominently in these rituals, which are described in uncommon detail by Teit (1900:313-317). In the old days the girl's isolation lasted for an entire year. Her hut was left to disintegrate of its own accord through time. Other things that she had used or worn were destroyed. (Teit 1900:317)

During subsequent menstrual periods women were isolated in a special conical brush or bark hut as already described (see Menstrual Shelter section).

Boy's Puberty

The ritual patterns followed by pubescent Thompson boys differed with their goals in life: aspiring hunters practiced hunting and shooting ceremonially; would-be warriors performed mimic battles and prayed to the Sun; those desiring to become successful gamblers played with gaming sticks. (Teit 1900:317)

Boys began their training when they first dreamed of an arrow, canoe, or woman, generally between the ages of 12 and 16. They then commenced a 4-day regimen of running, washing in cold water, painting their faces red, wearing special headbands and deer hoof ornaments, drinking through a tube, and using the scratching stick. Each night of the four they went to a mountain top, kindled a fire, danced, sang, and prayed. From then on, sometimes for years, they went alone to lonely parts of the mountains with water-basket, fire drill, and mat, remaining occasionally for as long as two months. There they fasted, living on what game they secured, sweat bathed, and prayed and were with the guardian spirits. Even after they returned home, they observed certain behavioral requirements: they ate sparingly, kept away from the fire, bathed twice daily, sweat bathed, and purged themselves. (Ray 1942:235; Teit 1900:317-319; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:510-512)

The sweat lodge used on these occasions apparently differed somewhat from the usual structure. The door, constructed of fir-branches, always faced east. Apparently, normally four or eight hot stones served to generate the steam. Inside the lodge sweaters struck their bodies with nettles, prayed, and sang, asking the Sweat-House to make them healthy, agile, wise, brave, and lucky and to help them be good hunters, trappers, and fishermen. After sweating, they rubbed their faces and armpits with pulverized leaves, fine river silt, or the white dust on cottonwood bark. They rolled in the dew, or washed themselves with dew- covered branches. (Ray 1942:206-207; Teit 1900:319)

The boys at this time were athletically active: during the night they jumped, ran hard, shot at marks, and so on. With a jadeite adz they made round holes in boulders, praying meanwhile. At daybreak they returned to their sweat lodges.

When reparing to certain peaks and lonely places in the mountains, some youths set up a stone, danced and sang around it, and finally fired an arrow at it. If the stone moved or cried out, it was a sign that their efforts to become great hunters had been crowned with success. (Teit 1900:320)

These ritual activities continued until the youth experienced his guardian spirit dream. The nature of this experience and further information regarding the guardian spirit world are to be found in a later section of this study.

The Lower Thompson quest pattern differed in certain details. In the first place only a few boys and some girls were sent out on the search, going alone, at their father's behest, beginning at the age of about 12 years. The vigil typically lasted from four to eight days, repeated more than once over a period of several months. They were sometimes told where to go: e.g., to certain unfrequented lakes or mountains or to some isolated sweat lodge. They were instructed as to what activities to engage in: e.g., to keep alert, to sweat, to fast to the extent possible, to induce vomiting to maintain internal cleanliness, to drink certain medicines, and -- as with the Upper Thompson -- to carry out mimetic activities associated with the power they sought. They were given to carry with them a small part of the animal whose spirit they were to seek. (Ray 1942:235-237)

The spirit appeared to the Lower Thompson youth in a vision. (occasionally a dream) in human form (sometimes as an animal). It gave him a special song and at times an object of symbolic significance to be carried and used throughout life. Upon returning home, his success or failure was made known only to his father or other proctor. (Ray 1942:237-239)

Many Thompson carried with them a bag containing a guardian spirit relic, like the skin of their spirit helper. Or they tied to their hair a part of the skin or the feathers of their spirit. (Teit 1900:320-321)

Adolescent boys were expected to observe their own set of tabus. They avoided menstrual lodges and touching the winter lodge ladder, this latter because women had done so. They drank no water in which meat had been boiled; they ate no roots or berries or any food prepared by women; they always ate alone. They painted

records, which were pictures representing their ceremonies and their dreams, on bowlders, or oftener on cliffs, especially in wild spots, like canons, near waterfalls, etc. These were generally pictures of animals, birds, fishes, arrows, fir-branches, lakes, sun, thunder, etc. Figures of women symbolized their future wives. It was believed that the making of rock-paintings insured long life. (Teit 1900:321)

The nasal septum and ears were generally pierced to receive their ornaments about the time of puberty. Tattooing was also carried out then. (Teit 1900:321)


From puberty until marriage, a Lower Thompson girl's activities were restricted: she was chaperoned at all times, occasionally even "concealed completely" according to Ray's informant, although how this was managed in a strict sense is difficult to comprehend given the necessarily open life style of the tribe. Love songs were sung -- presumably wholly or largely by the young men; prayers for success in love were addressed to slain bears and sometimes to the Sweat Lodge. Love magic was performed with the assistance of birds' hearts or hair of the person being coveted. Magical concoctions were rubbed on, or worn on, the person himself. However, unchastity, if discovered, resulted in enforced marriage at the discretion of the girl's family. (Ray 1942:207, 212)

The only formal restrictions on marriage were those of kinship: unions between even distant known relatives were criticized. Hereditary ranks and classes created no marriage problems, since these social units were nonexistent within the tribe. However, wealthy people preferred to have their children marry into families of similar prominence: hunters into families of hunters; warriors into warrior families, and so on. The Lower Thompson, both Teit and Ray state, favored intervillage marriages. (Ray 1942:213; Teit 1900:325)

Girls were considered marriageable at 17 or 18 years of age, once their puberty rituals had been completed; most males married between the ages of 22 and 25. Usually the husband was some five years older than his wife, though occasionally the difference was as much as 20 or more years. Men rarely married women much older than they were, unless they were taking the widow of an older brother. Occasionally children were betrothed, an arrangement formalized by a good-will gift exchange; the children involved henceforth lived together. (Ray 1942:212; Teit 1900:321-322)

Various kinds of marriage arrangements were in practice. One of the most prestigious involved taking presents to the parents and relatives of the girl through a go-between. The girl's kin considered the offer and, if they regarded it as a favorable marriage, the consent of the girl herself was sought. Among the Lower Thompson, wealthy people, if pleased with the new son-in-law, sometimes returned all or part of these marriage presents. Generally, however, they were retained by the girl's parents and were distributed among her relatives. In another common and likewise honorable pattern, the girl's parents took the initiative. If the man's parents agreed to the proposed union, the principals were considered betrothed. (Ray 1942:208-210; Teit 1900:322-323; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:505)

Under both of the above arrangements the husband went later at an agreed-upon time to claim his wife. He remained at her home for several days, then took her to his own family dwelling for a period. After a time the couple returned to the woman's house with presents and were received with a large feast. For a period the couple remained with the wife's family. Later they returned to the house of the man's family, accompanied by the girl's kin and friends, where they, in turn, were treated to a fine feast. (Ray 1942:210, 211; Teit 1900:323)

Touching a girl, even accidentally, required marriage. Sometimes this action was taken openly as in religious dances. At times the man went secretly to the girl's house for four nights, sleeping each night on the edge of her blanket. If she failed to reject him, the pair were considered married and small feasts were celebrated. Depending on circumstances, the pair lived with her family or his. For their part, young women could similarly touch a man, but the latter was free to accept this overture or not. (Ray 1942:210; Teit 1900:324)

Elopements occurred, especially when a girl was chaperoned too closely by her parents or when they turned down all marriage offers. If her father pursued her and brought her home, he had to allow her to rejoin her husband. Young women were very seldom carried away by force. They sometimes committed suicide if their parents prevented marriage to one they favored or if they were compelled to marry against their wishes. (Teit 1900:324-325)

In general, residence after marriage was with the husband's group "to live with his family," although under certain circumstances it was with the wife's people. Even when it was in the man's village, the couple was expected to return temporarily to the woman's relatives. (Ray 1942:211; Teit 1900:292, 325)

Both the sororate and levirate prevailed among the Thompson. A widower was expected to marry his deceased wife's unmarried sister or other close female relative of the wife. Similarly, a widow was forced by custom to marry a brother or close male kinsman of her former husband, the eldest surviving brother having the first claim. She, in fact, could insist on such a union to support her and the children. This levirate custom resulted in a fair number of multiple wives. (Ray 1942:212-213; Teit 1900:325)

While monogamy was the norm, many men had more than a single wife -- as many as seven or eight on occasion -- if they were prominent and wealthy. Sometimes the several wives were sisters. Some hostility occasionally existed among the cowives, but this was somewhat reduced by assigning specialized duties to the women. (Ray 1942:231-214; Teit 1900:326) Apparently multiple husbands at the same time were unknown among the Thompson.

Divorce among the Lower Thompson was frequent, at the instance of either husband or wife. Desertion by a man released his wife from the marriage; the husband was criticized by others for this act if there were children. When a family divided, boys might go with either parent; girls, however, followed their mother. (Ray 1942:214)

Punishment for adultery appears to have been one-sided. A married woman's paramour was sometimes killed by the wronged husband and the wife at fault also. The fate of an adulterous husband with an unmarried woman, on the other hand, is not spelled out in the ethnographic accounts.

Berdaches were rare or unknown among the Thompson (Teit 1900:321).

Division of Labor

Adults of the two sexes divided the ordinary work of living in what appear to have been sensible ways that must have been roughly equivalent.

Men were expected to hunt, trap, and fish; to fight; to make all tools and weapons and fell trees; to look after the hunting dogs and help tend the horses; to protect their wives and beat them if they were lazy; and to instruct and advise their children, especially their sons.

Married women carried out almost all work of the house. It was their duty to help clean and dry fish, carry meat and game back to the camp or village, dig and cure roots, and gather and cure berries; to erect the lodges, keep them clean inside, light the fire, gather brush for beds, collect all firewood, fetch water, and wash and cook; to make all mats, baskets, sacks, and clothing; to dress all skins for clothing; to tend the horses; to look after the children and educate the daughters; and to be obedient and faithful to their husbands.

Some men assisted their wives in various of their duties: in tanning buckskin and erecting the lodges, by making tools for them such as their root diggers, and so on. (Teit 1900:182, 295-296)

Death and Burial

When, among the Upper Division, a person expired within a semi-subterranean dwelling, the position of the ladder from the roof entrance to the floor was changed. The body was taken out and the ladder was then restored to its proper place. The Lower Thompson likewise removed the corpse from the dwelling without delay, through a hole in the wall when the house was an above-ground structure. A messenger announced the death to neighbors and friends, who then gathered at the dwelling and were feasted, though they had to force themselves to vomit immediately after the meal. (Ray 1942:215, 216; Teit 1900:327)

The body, without being washed, painted, or clothed in different dress, was doubled into a knee-chest posture and bound up in a tule mat, deer hide, or fur blanket. Among the Upper people, it was then placed on a temporary platform outside the house; in the Lower Division it was deposited in a tree until the burial. During that day and the following night it was watched over by relatives and friends with much ritual weeping, singing of mourning songs, and periodic face washing. These "watchers" were later rewarded with presents.

The interment took place the following day. Each group of families had its own burial ground some distance from the village. The grave was dug if possible where the soil was sandy to make the digging with the ordinary root digging stick less onorous. It was "swept out" four times with a fir or rosebush branch "to drive away evil influences," and was lined with grass or birch bark. The funeral procession was led by two pallbearers, who were later compensated for their services. Following them came the adult relatives and friends and lastly the children who wished to attend. Speeches of praise were made by an old man and by the kin of the deceased. The body was placed in the pit in a sitting position -- perhaps in an extended posture among the Lower people -- and the weapons, tools, ornaments, and "medicine bag" of the deceased, all broken to "kill" them, were deposited with it. Sometimes a small heap of stones was piled on the grave and sometimes a conical tent of bark or branches was constructed over the grave. Weapons, broken intentionally, clothing, and broken utensils were hung inside the tent or on a tree in the vicinity. Poles, painted red, were pushed into the ground nearby. One or more of the person's dogs and horses were killed and their bodies or skins were left close-by. A postfunerary feast was held with the mourners as guests, the food provided by relatives of the deceased. All guests received small gifts in appreciation of their attendance at the interment. (Ray 1942:216-220; Teit 1900:328-330)

Prayers were addressed to the deceased person, asking that the surviving relatives not be harmed. Each year for some time thereafter the bones were gathered, cleaned, and reburied. Persons dying in the distant high mountains were often buried there of necessity and only months and even years later were the bones exhumed and carried back to the family burying ground. (Ray 1942:222; Teit 1900:330)

People who had handled the body were isolated for four days and observed various behavioral restrictions having to do primarily with eating, drinking, bathing, rubbing the body with fir boughs, and being fed ceremonially by relatives and friends. A lodge in which a person had died was burned; a winter pit-house was purified with water in which tobacco and juniper had been soaked and the floor was covered with fresh fir-boughs. Among the Lower Thompson the dwelling was fumigated by burning juniper boughs or in other ways. Property not placed in or at the grave was distributed among the relatives. A substantial number of other actions to magically protect the survivors were carried out: some, for instance, were designed specifically to prevent the ghost from returning to annoy and bring danger to the living. Mentioning the name of the deceased was tabu. Widows and widowers had to engage in many ritual acts in which the number four was very prominent; they were forced to eat, wash, and sleep in certain ways. They cut their hair and wore special thongs around their neck, wrist, knees, and ankles. The Lower group tabued hunting by a widower for a period, and root-digging and berrying by a widow for an entire year. Clearly the event of death and the days and months that followed were considered potentially very dangerous to the close kin and the families of the deceased. (Ray 1942:220-222; Teit 1900:331-333; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:506)

Long ago, according to tradition, the Lower Thompson buried their dead, doubtless following closely the pattern described above for the recent Upper Thompson. Then, it appears, stagings were erected and on these platforms grave boxes were placed. The bodies, wrapped in cedar-bark mats, were put in these boxes in a sitting position. Carved figures and poles surrounded these platforms. But for many generations before 1900 the Lower Thompson laid the bodies in large, square cedar boxes, supported on posts and provided with lids. These boxes and posts were often carved and painted. Each box belonged to one family or several related families. When one box became full, a new one was constructed close-by. Poles and grave figures, to which clothing and other articles were attached, were erected around these boxes. From their tops streamers flew in respect to the dead. Sometimes instead of human grave figures, carved figures of birds and animals were used. Near Boston Bar on the Fraser River in Lower Thompson territory stood at one time a very large, wooden human figure with a hole in the back large enough to hold a corpse awaiting burial. (Ray 1942:218; Teit 1900:329, 335-336, 1930b:289)

Tombs of this box variety are mentioned twice in Fraser's narrative. Near the upper end of Fraser Canyon in a Lower Thompson camp, Fraser (1960:94), in late June of 1808, "visited a tomb which was near by the [Indian] camp. It was built of boards sewed together, and was about four feet square. The top was covered with Cedar bark and loaded with stones. Near it in a scaffold were suspended two canoes, and a pole from which were suspended [word indecipherable], stripes of leather, several baskets &c." Farther downriver in the Spuzzum area he observed

. . . tombs of a curious construction. . . . These Tombs are superior to any thing of the kind I ever saw among the savages. They are about fifteen feet long and of the form of a chest of drawers. Upon the boards and posts are carved beasts and birds, in a curious but rude manner, yet pretty well proportioned. These monuments must have cost the workmen much time and labour, as they were destitute of proper tools for the execution of such a performance. Around the tombs were deposited all the property of the deceased. (Fraser 1960:97-98)

The bones of the dead were frequently removed from the box by wealthy families, bundled together, recovered with new material, and replaced in the box. Feasts accompanied such reburials. (Ray 1942:222; Teit 1900:336)

Shamans, suicides, and twins were all buried in the same fashion as ordinary people. When a Lower Thompson person died far from home, the body was sometimes cremated. (Ray 1942:218, 219)



The leadership structure of the Thompson from village to tribe was exceedingly loose and informal, without sharply patterned, dominating proscriptions and prescriptions. The only exception appears to have been, if Ray's data are valid, among the Lower Thompson at the village level where the community heads exercised sanctioned powers, noted below, somewhat beyond anything reported for the Upper Division.

In the village of the "ordinary" size there was one person who was recognized by popular consensus as the community head; in large villages two or more men comprised the leadership. These persons exercised no formally sanctioned leadership responsibilities beyond their own settlement, each village being autonomous in a technical sense though not necessarily completely so functionally as explained below.

The role of headman was not inherited. Rather the village leaders were men noted for their wealth, wisdom, oratorial abilities, and war prowess. Wealthy persons gained power largely by their liberality: they gave public feasts and presents, and they treated strangers well to spread their fame even beyond their Thompson tribe. Oratorial ability was especially important in determining leadership. When skilled orators were likewise wealthy and wise, they exerted great influence over their fellows. Fortunately, the most able generally favored peace and harmony. Some of these leaders were well-known and exerted important influence outside of their own village; even so, they seldom made significant decisions without consulting the people. At least this was the Upper Thompson situation. In the Lower villages, according to Ray (1942:230), the chief not only served as arbiter among his people but was able actually to "command" them and to receive tribute from them, though at the same time sharing his wealth with them. The most important and influential chief among the Lower communities was the headman at Spuzzum. (Ray 1942:229-230; Teit 1900:289, 1930b:270)

Village leaders were distinguished visually by no special clothing or ornamentation. No female village heads existed among the Upper bands, though they apparently occurred in unusual circumstances among the Lower Division. The Thompson had their native term for these leaders, one that is customarily translated in the ethnographic literature as "chief." (Ray 1942:229; Teit 1900:289) Within the above context, this designation of "chief" is used for convenience in this present report, though technically improper -- except perhaps for the Lower Thompson -- in terms of contemporary ethnological theory.

Under this leadership pattern, hereditary chieftainship, as well as politically tied noble-commoner distinctions, was impossible. Sons of chiefs enjoyed a certain amount of popularity on this account, but did not themselves become leaders unless they possessed the necessary personal qualifications. When they had these, they sometimes assumed the leadership status of their fathers, particularly among the Lower Thompson where this is known to have occurred in a line for several generations. (Teit 1900:289)

Other individual leaders took charge of specially-focused activities. A raiding party was led by the man considered by the members of the group best qualified to direct its activities. As a matter of course, his decisions were rarely made without consultation. Hunting parties followed the direction of the most experienced member of the group. In dances and religious ceremonies, the person to play the most prominent part in the activity assumed the leadership. (Teit 1900:289)

Within even the village there was no formal council to provide advice and guidance to the chief. Rather, whenever anyone had in mind to engage in any activity that concerned the community as a whole -- e.g., a raiding expedition or a marriage -- he called all of its men together. Sometimes men from other villages with an especially high reputation for wisdom were called in by messenger. Each man in this ad hoc advisory body had an equal right to express his opinions and to vote in decisions. If the group was convened to discuss war or a lesser raid, and if the decision was favorable and supportive, a "war-leader" was selected then and there and this person sent messengers to nearby groups to solicit warrior assistance. Women took no part in these assemblies and council sessions. Generally the advice of the oldest and most experienced man was accepted as the will of the group. The man who convened the meeting and his close friends were expected to furnish the food for the group. (Teit 1900:289-290)

With no hereditary "chiefs" or firmly established headmen at the village level, it is not surprising that there were none for the band, division, and tribe as a whole. To the extent that recognized leadership existed in these larger population entities, it was of the same loose sort as prevailed within the village: some man, through his skills of persuasion, wisdom, and liberality emerged to assume the leadership status as circumstances arose and wide public direction was needed.

Transgression and Punishment

There appear to be no organized ethnographic summaries of the Thompson view of criminal acts and means taken to seek redress. The few scraps of data assembled below have been extracted from miscellaneous cultural contexts and do no more than illustrate the customary pattern. One general point, however, is clear: punishment, if carried out, was at the hands of the injured party and/or his relatives and friends.

Adultery on the part of a married woman is a case in point. After a second offense, the man involved was generally killed by her husband and his kin and friends and she herself was either put to death or divorced (Teit 1900:326).

Similarly, shamans who were believed to have willfully caused the death of others through their malevolent supernatural powers were sometimes dispatched, with general public approval, by the surviving relatives and their friends (Teit 1900:361).

There were customary rules governing the construction of deer fences, the ownership of fishing sites, eagle nests, and various devices fashioned to take game, and the early picking of unripe berries. There was also a tribal conviction that members of other tribes should not make use of the natural resources within the Thompson territorial boundaries. But how infractions against these individual and public protective rights were punished is not reported.

Certain actions were widely condemned but evidently not punished in a physical manner. Such, for example, was infanticide: the killing of unwanted infants was strongly criticized but seemingly the person responsible received no punishment other than the usual overt and more subtle expressions of public disapproval (Teit 1900:305).

There is nothing to indicate that suicide was regarded as a private or public offense among the Thompson. Obviously the person could not be punished if the act were successful. But this is a convenient place, under Western conventions, to note that suicide was not unknown among the Thompson. In the Lower Division, suicide was more common among females than males, occasioned sometimes through disappointment in love but more commonly as a consequence of domestic troubles. The act was normally achieved by hanging. (Ray 1942:230-231)

Intentional, accidental, and unknowing transgressions against the supernatural world -- guardian spirits, spirits at large, unnatural beings, and so on -- were punished by illness, bad luck, and the like by these entities by supernatural means. As illustrated in the following section, the occasions for these action slips were virtually limitless and accounted for many of the misfortunes that beset a person in the course of his or her life.


In this section are gathered data describing those areas of Thompson life that bore directly upon the supernatural world: on the traditional Thompson view of the world around them and of the land of the dead and especially on the relations of people to supernatural beings and forces.

World View

The earth, some Thompson believed, was square; others thought it to have been circular. The point where the Thompson River reached the Fraser River was regarded as the world center, for here Coyote's son descended from the sky. It was considered to be relatively level in the center, but rising to mountains and lakes, covered with clouds and mist, around the edges. East and west were the two important directions; four was the "mystic' number occurring in all ceremonials and myths. (Teit 1900:337)

The present shape of the world, its mountains, valleys, and so on, was made thus by several transformers, the greatest of which were Old Coyote and then Old Man. These beings in that very early period possessed both human and animal characteristics. Most large rocks of remarkable shape in recent Thompson country were thought to have once been these beings, transformed into stone. The origins or causes of many natural phenomena were explained in the rich body of Thompson myths: cold and warm winds, thunder (a grouse-like bird shooting arrows), fog, and the like. (Teit 1900:337-338)

The entire countryside in the late 1800s was believed to be still inhabited here and there by many mysterious beings. They lived in the peaks, lakes, creeks, and waterfalls of the high mountains. Strange and inexplicable objects (e.g., canoes crossing lakes without paddlers) and beings (e.g., grizzly bears that emerged from lakes) were sometimes viewed in those areas, but seeing them resulted soon in death. Some rock paintings, especially those overlooking water, were thought to have been the work of these beings. The Lower Thompson believed in mountain monsters and in man-like, harmless dwarfs that lived in steep cliffs and deep forests, that wandered around the mountains shouting or weeping, that fled from hunters but sometimes played tricks on people. They occasionally saw gaunt, naked, ghost-like beings that chased people. They knew of very powerful giants, dressed in skins and having a peculiar powerful odor, that lived in caves and ran down game with their superior physical abilities and sometimes chased and stole people. (Teit 1900:338-341)

Heavenly bodies -- the sun, sun-dogs, moon, stars (including the Big Dipper and the Pleiades by the position of which the Thompson told time at night), and rainbows -- were talked about and explained in many Thompson myths. (Teit 1900:341-342)

The land of the souls or ghosts of the dead (seemingly no distinction was made by the Thompson between the two) and the trail leading to it were known in great detail from reports of shamans who had made the journey in an effort to recapture the soul of a dying person. In a common view it had streams to cross, log bridges, short cuts (taken by shamans), climbing and descending stretches, and so on. Three venerable guardians were stationed at different points along the route to turn back souls of people whose time had not yet come. Just before reaching the soul (or ghost) country the soul passed through a long lodge where it was greeted by the souls of the person's relatives and friends who had predeceased him. The land itself was a fine, warm land with plentiful food and much singing and dancing by the soul-people. (Teit 1900:343)

An alternate view of the trail to this afterworld had the soul crossing a lake in a canoe in dim light. Some Thompson held that there were animal underworlds, with concealed entrances, where the creatures were born, from which they wandered from time to time to the Thompson territory, and to which they sometimes returned in numbers, explaining why animals were occasionally scarce among the Thompson. (Teit 1900:343-344)

Prayers, Beliefs, Prescriptions, and Proscriptions

Thompson prayers and observances were all predicated on the existence of spirits (and so powers) that occurred through all nature: those associated with the stars, mountains, animals, trees, and so on endlessly. While most spirits were individual and personal, a few were so generally prayed to that they might almost be regarded as having been tribal supernaturals: the sun, dawn, rain, tops of mountains, certain lakes, the sweat-house spirit, and perhaps Old Man. The objective of these prayers was, in general, to fulfill the sup pliant's desires and gain protection from harm. (Teit 1900:344)

Certain parts of high mountains, especially peaks, were considered the country of particularly powerful spirits. Visiting these areas, Indians appeased their resident supernaturals with offerings of a lock of hair, a bit of clothing, a piece of tobacco, or a stone and prayed for good weather and a successful hunt. Women picking berries or digging roots on certain mountains or coming in sight of certain lakes always painted their faces red as an offering in return for good weather and good fishing. (Teit 1900:344)

Roots growing near a lake with a strong and mysterious spirit should not be dug, nor should reeds and grass growing in its water be collected under pain of bad luck. Some of the first berries gathered in the season were offered to the mountains by an old gray-haired person who danced and held the first fruit out toward the mountain tops, and whose companions painted their faces red and danced. During a spell of heavy precipitation, Rain was prayed to in a simple ritual in which a stick heated in a fire was put to use. The Chinook wind received prayers. Every morning an old member of each household prayed to the dawn. (Teit 1900:345-346)

Beliefs that certain acts magically brought about certain specific consequences were widespread. Arrows with red tail-feathers of flickers shot at enemy houses would set them afire. Biting dog's ears to make the animals howl would drive thunder away. Killing a frog caused rain. Pointing at a rainbow resulted in sores on the finger. The number of beliefs of these kinds was evidently legion. (Teit 1900:346)

"Owing to the mysterious powers which animals and plants were believed to be possessed of, numerous customs were observed intended to propitiate them. Women, widows and widowers, and other unclean persons, had to treat them with particular care." Teit (1900:346-350) illustrates this situation with many scores of examples. In summary, they had to do with how game (especially deer and bear) should be butchered, the meat handled and the offal disposed of. Deer meat, for example, was always taken into the hunting lodge through a hole in the back, not through the normal entrance, which was used by women. To insure hunting success, especially in bear hunting, a man sweat-bathed, supplicating his guardian spirit and sometimes the bear itself for a favorable hunt. Because bears could hear people talking, a hunter was careful not to mention a coming hunt. When one of these large animals had been killed, the hunter painted his face, sang the bear song, thanking it for allowing itself to be taken, and tied the skull to the top of a small tree. (Teit 1900:347)

In general, animals to be hunted had to be talked to and about with respect, and hunters observed numerous practices to assist themselves magically in attaining a successful hunt. Some creatures, however -- snakes, frogs, shellfish, and particularly lizards -- were abhorred and even feared. (Teit 1900:348)

Practices similar to those relating to deer, bear, and other important animals, though apparently far fewer, were followed in regard to fish. The Thompson, it is true, had no elaborate first salmon ceremonies such as were so common on the coast and among the Plateau tribes to the south. Still, children were not allowed to swim in rivers while the salmon were running. Sturgeon fishing gear was hung up in trees some distance from the house to avoid contamination. And there were other such fish-related procedures. (Teit 1900:348)

Many tabus regulating the eating of specific animals or parts of them were observed against untoward consequences for noncompliance. In some cases animals could be eaten by only one sex or one age group or only under certain conditions. In other instances certain actions were forbidden while others were enjoined to insure success. Such was the case with wild sunflower roots, which were difficult to cook. Women digging the root painted their faces and both while digging it and when cooking it abstained from sexual intercourse. By placing branches within the oven when putting it together and then pulling them out during the cooking operation and inspecting their condition, women could determine how well the roots were cooking. Men were forced to keep away from these ovens while the cooking was in progress. (Teit 1900:349)

Guardian Spirits and the Winter Spirit Ceremony

Each person among the Upper Thompson had his own guardian spirit, acquired during the puberty rituals. According to Ray's (1942:235) Lower Division informant, the situation was different in his group: only a few boys and some girls were sent out as adolescents in search of spirit power. (For a description of the quest, see Boy's Puberty section above.) Furthermore, it was rare for a Lower Thompson to secure a tutelary spirit unsought. These data together can only mean, it would appear, that not every man and even fewer women

acquired a spirit, unless they were obtained by gift from another person, by inheritance, or by some other route not noted by Ray. A few shamans among the Upper bands were thought to inherit their spirits unsought in dreams and visions from parents who had been particularly powerful in the supernatural domain. (Teit 1900:354)

Certain animals (mammals, fish, birds, insects, etc.) and certain objects (both natural -- like mountains, lakes, rocks, thunder, clouds, fire -- and man-made) could become guardian spirits but their powers were somewhat differentiated (e.g., powers to assist in hunting or fishing vs. those to help in controlling the weather, seeing into the future, finding lost objects, fighting as a warrior, gambling, or exercising the functions of a shaman) and of different degrees of strength (grizzly spirit more powerful for hunters than coyote). By the same token, some animals were considered not to possess the ability to play the guardian role: e.g., chipmunk, fool-hen, butterfly. Only a few birds -- as an exception the eagle was thought by the Lower Thompson to be an especially powerful spirit -- and a very few trees could assume tutelary responsibilities. (Ray 1942:234-235; Teit 1900:354-356)

A detailed listing of the spirits that normally associated themselves with persons with the different important life emphases is provided by Teit (1900:354-356). The following does no more than illustrate some of these associations.

  • Hunters acquired as some of their guardians the wolf, wolverine, bear, deer, elk, owl, hawk, deer's nose, canoe, and snare.
  • Fisherman got, among others, water, loon, all kinds of ducks, many varieties of fish, canoe, paddle, nets, spear, and weirs.
  • Gamblers had many different spirits and different kinds of spirits: e.g., natural phenomena, mammals (mountain goat was especially important among the Lower Thompson), birds (e.g., hummingbird), insects (wasp, ant, spider, etc.), and objects (sweat house, moccasins, dentalia).
  • Warriors preferred the grizzly, hawk, eagle, thunder, various weapons (e.g., bow, arrow, knife), and especially sun.
  • Shamans had as their favorite tutelaries heavenly bodies (e.g., sun, morning star); natural phenomena (sunset, thunder, fire, fog, snow- capped mountains, etc.); mammals (e.g., bear, wolf, otter, badger); specific birds, fish, and reptiles; parts of animals (bird down); trees; objects (e.g., tobacco pipe); parts of the human body; and death-related objects (ghost, grave rock mound, etc.). Certain spirits became "powers" to shamans alone. (Teit 1900:354-356)

Women secured as their guardian supernaturals the mountain goat, basket, basket kettle, root digger, and packing line.

It is apparent that there was an obvious association between many of the supernaturals -- -and the living or inanimate "things" of which they were spirits -- and the interest focus of the group to which they became tutelaries: hunters had among their spirits the wolf, hawk, and owl; fishermen, the loon, fishhook, and canoe; warriors, blood and various weapons. This is not surprising, but two features of the guardian spirit world, as exemplified by Teit's field roster, are remarkable. One is that parts of animals and things became tutelaries: +e.g., deer tail, fir cone, gun nipple, and right side of an animal or object. The second: the spirit was an animal or object of an unusual or particular color, e.g., white stump, spotted dog, red fish, blue sky, and red cloud. (Ray 1942:235; Teit 1900:354-356)

All animals were thought to have names of their own, which the guardian supernatural could reveal to its human associate, giving the latter special power over the living animals. Knowing the sacred name of the grizzly and addressing the animal by this name rendered it gentle and harmless to the hunter. (Teit 1900:355)

Guardian powers were not vague, otiose, and fanciful supernaturals, but entered the daily life of the Thompson -- at least the Upper Division -- man and woman at every turn. Their intimate relation to the raiding party and its success or failure illustrates this point (see Hostilities section above).

The winter spirit ritual of the Lower Thompson was a simple one in contrast to the elaborate ceremony of the groups in the central and southern Plateau. It was no more than a one or two day session of spirit recognition in which each person in the gathering sang his own spirit songs, joined in brief periods of group dancing, and enjoyed a group feast. The entire community -- men, women, and children -- participated. (Ray 1942:253)


Both men and women among the Thompson became shamans through acquiring the proper guardian spirits and their powers. These were secured in essentially the same manner as "ordinary" guardian spirit powers: through a proper vision or dream. The tutelaries received were, however, at times specific shamanistic spirits. Typically shamans also obtained a greater number of spirits. At any rate, their close association with the supernatural world and the special non-natural skills they possessed set them quite apart from laymen. (Ray 1942:240; Teit 1900:360)

To secure these spirits involved training over a long period, sometimes years. Among the Lower Thompson a man could even secure a dead person as a tutelary by performing certain rites with a human skull. With the assistance of their spirits communicating with them through visions and dreams, they were able to perform their acts for good or evil. To mark their status Upper Thompson shamans walked with staffs and smoked pipes with carved or painted symbolic designs. Lower Division shamans wore eagle feathers in their hair, painted their face with certain colors and designs, sometimes wore their hair in special ways that announced their shamanistic powers, and walked more slowly than laymen. (Ray 1942:241; Teit 1900:354, 360)

As noted in detail below, illnesses among the Thompson were thought to have various etiologies. Curing specialization on the part of individual shamans was primarily by reputation for curing successes, less because they had received different kinds of curing powers from their tutelaries. Shamans were well compensated for their successful treatments, although they received no fee for their first case. They established the level of their fee on the basis of the patient's status. Sometimes they actually delayed their treatment while they bartered for a more generous compensation. Further, they were "known" to have made healthy persons ill for the sole purpose of obtaining their property. In addition to a certain amount of greed as a driving force in the shamans attempts to promote high rewards for their services, it was believed that the greater the payments to them, the more willing were their guardian spirits to work hard for cures when called upon in subsequent cases. Turn about, should they fail to effect a cure, they were compelled to return their fees to the kin of the deceased. It is not surprising that the prestige of shamans was on occasion greater than that of the "chiefs." At least among the Lower Thompson male shamans were more numerous than female ones, though the latter were considered as powerful as their male counterparts. (Ray 1942:240-241; Teit 1900:364)

Shamans were touchy about how others treated them. People, for example, did not startle them, or eat in their presence without inviting them to join in the meal, or allow their shadows to fall on them. It is not surprising that shamans were treated with respect.

Shamans had the power to cause sickness and misfortune in various ways. Even those who normally used their skills for good sometimes employed them for evil for the sake of gain or revenge. Using a deer nasal bone, they could "shoot" a person with their spirit. They could steal a person's soul and send it off to the sun, an act which, if not reversed, caused death. They could bewitch an enemy especially when the latter was eating, drinking, or smoking; for this reason people avoided doing thus in the presence of an unknown shaman. They could harm a person by using magically his nail clippings, a bit of his hair, or his weapons, unless the intended victim possessed greater supernatural powers than the shaman himself. They could make people fall ill by causing ghosts to frequent their houses. A shaman could cause a hunter to have bad luck by having a ghost accompany him on his hunt to frighten the game. Given this set of strong beliefs touching in such an intimate way on daily life, it is understandable that shamans were sometimes killed by relatives of persons who were thought to have died of witchcraft, if they suspected these wielders of great supernatural power as the perpetrators. In such instances, no compensation was claimable by the shamans' kinfolk. (Ray 1942:240, 241; Teit 1900:360-361)

If a shaman could be the cause of illnesses and misfortunes, so he had the power in many instances to cure ailments and reverse misfortunes. Sometimes more than one shaman worked on a case together or independently (Ray 1942:248). We have two accounts of Thompson shamanistic curing procedures: that of Teit recorded in the 1890s for the Thompson in general with special relevance to the Upper Thompson, and that of Ray secured in the 1930s for the Lower Thompson in particular. These are sufficiently different to merit individual summaries. Surely certain of these differences represent real group differences in procedures; others are undoubtedly only variations on the part of individual shamans on essentially the same procedures; still others are without question nothing more than informant data omissions on one side or the other. There seems to be no way to sort these out. The two accounts follow, the first, that of Teit, identified as "Thompson" and the second, that of Ray, labeled "Lower Thompson."

Summoned to treat a sick person, the Thompson shaman arrived with his face painted red and wearing various ornaments attached to his clothing: eagle feathers, pendants of small animal skins, and deer hoof rattles around his knees and ankles. He summoned his guardian spirits one by one, requesting their help in the case, until at last one agreed. He was then able to announce his diagnosis of the ailment. (Teit 1900:361-362)

Before commencing the treatment, the shaman among the Thompson painted his hair and sometimes other parts of his body, and removed his upper clothing. Frequently he smoked his long shaman's pipe with its eagle-feather pendants by which he communicated with the spirit world. From his mouth he sprayed over the patient water taken from a nearby basket. He performed remarkable feats to demonstrate his supernatural powers: he might make the water in the basket increase, decrease, or boil; or might swallow glowing embers from the nearby fire; or might perform acts of slight-of-hand or ventriloquism. During much of the time he sang the song of his guardian spirit, keeping time with his feet and occasionally imitating his spirit by voice and gestures. He talked with his spirit in speech rather unintelligible to the audience. He sometimes danced in a jumping, jerky manner. He blew often on the patient's body and repeatedly passed his hands over it. Finally he attempted to suck the illness-causing agent from the person and, if successful, spat it out and exhibited it to the audience. It proved to be a deer hair, if the patient had failed to observe some hunting custom; blood if guilty of violating the tabu against associating with a menstruating woman; a bone if bewitched by another shaman. This object was disposed of by being thrown far away. At times, following his cure, he instructed a patient to paint his body in a certain way, to eat certain foods, or to give his (or her) children certain names, all based on dreams in which he was provided such advice by his spirit "power." (Teit 1900:362-363)

In cases of serious illnesses the Thompson shaman sometimes determined the cause to be the departure of the soul -- of its own accord, by having been sent to the sun by a hostile shaman, or by being drawn away by a dead person. He was able to see it and overtake it on its journey to the soul-world if called to the case within two days of its departure. Wearing over his head a conical mask made of a mat, he pantomimed his spirit's search for the soul and, if necessary, its journey to the soul world to recapture it. He, through his spirit, first visited the group's graveyards and generally found the errant soul at one of them. If unsuccessful in this endeavor, he "left" for the soul country, taking shortcuts to try to head it off, jumping rivers and other trail obstacles, searching, talking with souls he encountered, and so on. If his efforts succeeded, he captured the soul and fled with it in his hands, fending off pursuing souls by stamping his feet to make his deer hoofs rattle and by fighting off assailants with a club he carried for this purpose. On his "arrival" back in the dwelling, he returned the soul to the person through his head. (Teit 1900:363-364)

In Lower Thompson villages when the services of a shaman were thought required, a messenger was dispatched to solicit his services. Gifts were taken to him then and others were promised. If the shaman consented to take the case, he went immediately to the sick person among his friends and relatives, who were expected to remain silent during the proceedings to follow. Without delay he began the treatment, washing his hands in cold water brought for this purpose and smoking as he sat beside the patient. (Ray 1942:242)

The first step in the treatment -- an essential one -- was the diagnosis of the ailment and its cause. To secure their aid, the shaman summoned his spirits by name. He placed his hands on the patient's body, blew and sprinkled water on him, and sang. Once the cause had been determined, he described it to the sick person and those in attendance, sometimes even naming the hostile shaman if the problem was believed to be shaman-initiated. He described the treatment he was to undertake and predicted its ultimate success or failure. (Ray 1942:243)

Curing was accomplished by the Lower Thompson in one of two rather different ways: by "drawing out" the illness agent or by removing it by sucking. On what basis the choice was made between these two techniques is not made clear by Ray's published data. To draw out the disease object the shaman repeatedly passed his hands over the ill person's body, though without touching it, blew on it, and finally removed the sickness, sometimes in parts, in the form of a foreign object. On the other hand, the sucking process consisted of two components. First blood was sucked out of the patient's body through a tube, the end of which was placed at the site of the intrusive object, commonly the temples, as determined during the diagnosis. The blood was allowed to flow from the tube into the shaman's hand. He then thrust his hands into the water that had been brought to his side when he had first arrived. This accomplished, the offending object itself was sucked out. Once this was in his mouth, the shaman lost control of his actions to such an extent that he had sometimes to be held by his assistants. The sickness -- the object removed by the "drawing out" or sucking technique -- was disposed of in various ways as noted below. (Ray 1942:243-244)

Illnesses among the Lower Thompson caused by a spirit, sent by a hostile shaman, invading a person's body could be cured only through its extraction by a shaman of greater spirit power than the malevolent one. The spirit took the form of a small object visible when removed to laymen as well as to the curing shaman. Once in the latter's power, it was sometimes simply blown back to its owner, resulting in his illness. More commonly it was held in the shaman's hands and "cut in two" by a helper, causing the death of the enemy shaman, or it was thrown into the fire or into water with the same result. (Ray 1942:245-246)

Sickness was also thought by the Lower Thompson to be brought about by a natural object -- a hair, sinew, bone, pebble -- being sent into a person by an evilly disposed shaman. Again, curing required its removal. This object, like the spirit in material form, was visible to both laymen and the doctoring shaman. (Ray 1942:246)

Illness sometimes resulted from the theft of one's guardian spirit by a malignant shaman. For recovery, the spirit had to be retrieved by a curing shaman and restored to the patient by being "rubbed into . . . [his] head." (Ray 1942:246)

Other pathological conditions were diagnosed by Lower Thompson shamans (as by their Upper confreres) as the consequence of the loss of a person's soul, as when stolen by an enemy shaman. Cure was effected by a ritual journey on the part of the curing shaman to the land of the dead in pursuit of the soul. Wearing a special hooded cloak fastened with a wooden pin, the shaman lay on the floor and went through a pantomime journey, recounting to the patient and audience his experiences en route and naming the places visited. Occasionally the soul was not encountered before it managed the entire journey to the spirit world. If the shaman succeeded in overtaking it, he captured it on his cloak pin or between his hands and at once returned to the living world. Back from his mock journey, he bathed and blew upon the soul and returned it to its owner. (Ray 1942:246-248) While details differ, this curing pattern is very like that described above for the Upper Thompson under similar etiological circumstances.

Shamans were called upon, or took it upon themselves, to perform other services for persons or, in public spirit, for the larger community. Sometimes they were asked to cure especially valuable dogs and horses, using the same procedures followed in human cases. Occasionally through information received from their guardian spirits, they saw epidemics approaching as a fog blanket. To fend off this terrible danger, they had the people paint their faces and join them in singing their -- the shamans' -- guardian spirit song and dancing. From the food the people brought, they sacrificed bits to the epidemic spirit, and they and the people with them then ate the remainder. (Ray 1942:241; Teit 1900:364)

When game was scarce, shamans carried out a ritual to remedy the situation: they sat naked near a fire all night to secure a vision. In the morning after they and all the hunters with them had sung and washed in a nearby stream, the men went hunting where instructed by the shamans' vision. Some shamans had the power to look into the future -- to tell whether an ill person would recover, what the weather was to be, whether the berries and salmon were to be abundant. Some, with their spirit power, could control the weather. Others could lay ghosts. (Teit 1900:364-365) With all of these specialist supernatural skills, it is clear why shamans were without question the most powerful members of a community, why they were both feared and relied upon for essential services, why many became wealthy, and why, in some measure, they were overtly or sub rosa at one another's throats.

Frequently shamans had contests to determine which of them possessed the greatest supernatural powers. These were very dangerous affairs, for losers either died or were somehow disfigured or crippled as a visible mark of their defeat. (Ray 1942:248; Teit 1900:363)


Charms which, in some non-natural manner, acted magically to produce the desired results were used by the Thompson to secure badly needed advice on some important matter, to protect hunters from danger, to cause lightly wounded game to die quickly, to change luck from bad to favorable, to obtain wealth, affection, or love. A few illustrations drawn from Teit's roster must suffice.

To locate game in bad times, a Thompson hunter noosed a fool-hen, cut its head off, and, praying, tossed its head up in the air. When it fell, its beak pointed in the direction of game. To protect himself from injury, a grizzly hunter wore the tail of a "double-headed" snake, the tail having two eye-like protuberances. To keep a wounded deer from running far, the skin of a mouse found "on the higher mountains" was placed on its track. To change for the better a gambler's fortune, his wife hung a stone hammer above his pillow and turned it rapidly around. To gain affection, the male and female of a certain plant, as the Thompson identified sex in plants, were bound together with a hair from the man and one from the woman and were buried. (Teit 1900:370-371)

Magical means were used by the Lower Thompson to cause an out-of-favor person to fall ill. To achieve this goal, fingernail fragments, bits of hair, and the like from the person to be damaged were used, even on occasion scraps of his clothing. As already noted, illnesses of this etiology were treatable by shamanistic intervention. Charms identical or similar to those above and minor acts the efficacy of which derived from their magical powers were also practiced among the Lower villages. But mentioned specifically for this downriver group are only love magic and magical acts for bringing rain (using a beaver skin) and changing the weather (making use of a mountain goat skin). (Ray 1942:254)

Omens and Related Notions

Dreams were the result of the soul leaving the body, walking about the countryside, and experiencing whatever the person dreamed about. They were regarded as important indicators of things to come, the interpretation of them in their smallest detail being of great interest. Dreams of dead or sick persons or of a person falling, paddling a canoe, walking, and so on were interpreted differently depending on the immediate context: e.g., whether they were naked or clothed, moving toward the east or west, heading downstream or up or coming ashore, fording a stream or disappearing in the distance, climbing a hill or descending. Unfortunate consequences predicted on the basis of a dream could, at least in some instances, be countermanded by painting the face the following morning, sweat bathing, praying, and taking other recognized positive actions. (Teit 1900:372)

Happenstance events of an unusual sort, as well as some dreams, prophesied death: an orphan's itching head, the special taste of a pipe, a peculiar cry of an owl or coyote near a dwelling, a dead mouse on the trail, a repeated howling of a dog, and many more. Certain actions were to be avoided lest they themselves cause untoward consequences: e.g., to cut a buckskin thong from around the neck -- symbolizing cutting one's throat -- would bring about the person's violent death. If a person found a "lightning arrow-head" -- a large projectile point or knife of unknown origin to the Thompson and widely found in their country -- and took possession of it, he would ultimately go crazy. (And yet oddly they were said to have been picked up and reworked into new points.) (Ray 1942:233; Teit 1900:241, 372-374)

Some objects were by their nature unclean, contact with them to be strictly avoided to the degree possible.

Corpses were especially so. Burial rites were designed to counteract these contaminating influences. To take a body across a river resulted in no fish catches for four days. A drowning caused a salmon run to cease temporarily. (Teit 1900:374)

Thoughtless or uninformed actions of many other kinds produced unfortunate but less disastrous consequences. Bathing above a salmon fishing platform adversely affected salmon for a time. Numerous acts affected the weather: mention of the coyote in winter by children, burning wood from a lightning-struck tree, and burning the hair of a bighorn sheep or mountain goat all brought cold weather. (Teit 1900:374)

Certain happenings or actions were merely and sometimes neutrally informative. For instance, sneezing meant that someone was talking about the person. The death of a person and the birth of twins and "Indians intruding on the haunts of spirits in the mountains" all changed the weather. Actions of other kinds -- like burning beaver hair -- predicted hot weather, wind gusts, or especially rain. The behavior of certain animals and the condition of certain plants also possessed predictive value: multiple berry crops in a single season foretold a hard winter to come; early migration of hares to lower ground as well as an early changing of their coats indicated an early winter. (Teit 1900:374-375)

Other omens foretold favorable events. A dog lying with its lower jaw on its forepaws indicated a visitor bringing food or presents. Many red worms in the wild cherries were believed by the Lower Thompson to predict abundant salmon. A sudden snapping of a morning campfire told a hunter that he would kill deer that day. (Teit 1900:373-375)

Omens of these and doubtless other varieties must have been numberless among the Thompson.


It is unclear from the ethnographic record whether there were Thompson religious prophets, but such persons occasionally traveled through Thompson country from outside, each carrying some message from the spirit world they had visited in a trance and from which they claimed they had just returned. People listened respectfully to their discourse and dances were held wherever they went. (Teit 1900:365)

Some persons prophesied in secular matters through visions. They foretold the coming of Whites, the approach of epidemics, the introduction of dishes, stoves, sugar, and so on. One such successful prophet was a Lower Thompson chief who journeyed through the countryside about 1855 or before, telling of great changes to come. He, Teit concluded, received his information from Hudson's Bay personnel. (Teit 1900:365-366) It will be remembered from the preceding Chilliwack chapter that Fort Langley was established by the Company on the lower Fraser River in 1827.

Souls, Ghosts, and Unnatural Beings

Every person, animal, tree and other plant, and rock as well as fire, water, and so on was thought to possess its soul, seen only by shamans. On death or other form of destruction, all souls, with certain special exceptions, journeyed westward across a river to the underworld, retaining their earthly form. Humans there enjoyed a life without illness and with plenty of deer and berries. (Ray 1942:232-233; Teit 1900:357)

Each soul had a shadow that remained in the living world as a ghost for a short or sometimes very long period. The latter was the case, for instance, if a person were killed. While they were with the living, ghosts haunted the vicinity of the burial place, trying to bring fatal illnesses to their surviving relatives so their souls would join them in their journey to the afterworld. (Teit 1900:357-358)

Ghosts in the Upper Thompson country were ordinarily invisible to all but shamans, dogs, and horses, appearing even to them, however, only at night. Whistling at night was carefully avoided lest it attract them. Their appearance and behavior were well known: they were often naked; they were light-gray in color with mouth and eyes like blue fire. They leaned forward in a jerky walk, cried out humanlike when shot with an arrow, followed people but insisted in keeping to the trails, sometimes ate and drank with the living and on leaving stole their souls, and were repelled by a person's smoking. (Ray 1942:232; Teit 1900:358)

To the Lower people, on the other hand, ghosts appeared only in a frightening non-human form, lightning-like or flame-like, but still emitting characteristic gnawing or other sounds. They were seen especially at the site of deaths. (Ray 1942:232-233)

The souls of suicides and persons who had been very evil did not go to the afterworld: shamans simply never saw them there. But whether they were lost, died, or wandered forever on earth was not known. The future of souls of people who drowned was similarly enigmatic. Souls of children who died were thought to be reborn in the mother's next child of the same sex. (Teit 1900:358-360)

Souls were believed to leave living persons sometimes for some reason, causing unconsciousness and ultimately death unless they were returned, or were recovered and brought back by a shaman before they reached the spirit-world. (Ray 1942:232; Teit 1900:360)

Certain localities on rivers in Lower Thompson country were regarded with particular awe. Presumably this was because they were believed to be the residence of unnatural beings or potentially dangerous spirits although this point is not made explicitly by Ray (1942:256). In any event, these places -- better, their non-natural dwellers? -- were propitiated and their status was recognized by travelers maintaining silence in their vicinity.


In this section are discussed, to the degree that data exist, what might be termed the diversions of the Thompson, although every one of these action categories had its more serious cultural components, especially religious elements. Further these activities did not exist as separate cultural expressions. For example, singing and dancing were closely linked. Illustrative of this linkage are the observations of Simon Fraser. On his summer journey through the Fraser Canyon in 1808, Fraser (1960:93, 97,116) mentions being entertained on three occasions by Lower Thompson -- -"Nailgemugh" to him -- villagers "singing, dancing, &c." Similarly, the graphic and plastic arts were expressed as intimate components of weapons and utensils, dwellings, religious objects, and so on. And myths and legends, while diversions for the adult narrators and for the auditors as well, were also the means of inculcating in children the traditional wisdom of the tribal past, the way the physical environment of mythic times was brought into its present shape, and the ethical precepts and sanctioned behavior of the group.


Aspects of the plastic and decorative art of the Thompson, as known in the late 1800s, were described by Boas (1900) in an addendum to Teit's general Thompson ethnography. The data that follow are largely extracted from this source.

Figure 3-28. Sculptured stone bowl, about 5 inches high, discovered "24 miles above Yale" (Smith 1907:428 Figure 192) and hence about in the middle of the Fraser Canyon.

One of the more notable features of traditional Thompson art was its poverty in the carving domain. Only three examples of utensils with associated carvings are described by Boas (1900:376): a stone vessel in frog form, another vessel with a snake coiled around it, and a spoon with an animal's head at the end of the handle (Figures 3-10, 3-12). A stone head, seemingly a bowl of some sort found "24 miles above Yale" and therefore near the North Bend-Boston Bar sector of traditional Lower Fraser country, is figured by Harlan I. Smith (1907:428 Figure 192) (Figure 3-28). A few hammerstones ornamented with animal heads at the knob end of the handle were in use in Teit's time. By 1900 only a few stone artifacts with associated carvings had been discovered archaeologically in traditional Thompson territory and a few of bone, suggesting that plastic art was no more common in prehistoric times. (Boas 1900:376)

A very few human and animal carvings in wood were erected over graves. But all were crude, unlike the elaborate and technically refined carvings on the Northwest Coast. (Boas 1900:377) Fraser (1960:98) briefly describes some of these carvings observed in a Lower Thompson village in the Spuzzum sector: the boards and posts of the tomb were carved with beasts and birds "in a curious but rude manner," all rather well proportioned. The carving of these representations must have been laborious and time-consuming, he speculates, without proper metal tools.

Thompson decorative art conceived of animals as adapting themselves to the form of the implement to which it was applied; hence it was quite unlike that of the Northwest Coast which consisted predominantly of symbolic designs painted on surfaces to the shape of which they bore no relation. The symbols of Thompson graphic art were largely highly conventionalized, not realistic. A cross, for example, might represent two trails crossing; a single line, one trail; a dot, an offering; and so on. The same symbol, however, differed in its meaning depending on the implement which it ornamented: a design on a pipe might signify a lake with a river flowing into it, but on tongs it might represent a basket and ladle. On the other hand, the Thompson tended to paint designs with the same meaning on different examples of the same implement: e.g., lance heads often received skeleton patterns. Designs depicting guardian spirits were very common, endeavoring to endow the weapons or implements with special supernatural power. Clothing of men was frequently painted pictographically as instructed in the owner's dreams. During their puberty ceremonies, boys often painted their shirts and blankets in the same way, representing the mountains, for example, over which they traveled in their guardian spirit search and others where they resided when trying to acquire a spirit "helper." Clubs were often decorated with patterns depicting the owner's guardian spirits; gambling implements with designs to bring good luck; digging stick handles with patterns representing dreams. Shamans' pipes were often etched with animal or bird patterns. These highly conventionalized symbols were rarely adapted to the shape of the object to which they were applied. (Boas 1900:377-382)

Putting aside the common ornamentation with feathers, hair, elk teeth, claws, beads, shells, quills, and the like, it is worth special note, in light of the paucity of art objects per se, that tools, implements, and other items of material culture were often adorned with simple etched or painted patterns, geometric or representational. Some of these are mentioned above. References to this type of art are legion in Teit's ethnographic account. A few of these are the following: bows with painted patterns, spears with red and white painted skeletons, wooden clubs with simple linear designs representing ribs, hide shields with painted suns, wooden-rod vests painted with animal and geometric designs, hot-rock tongs with geometric and realistic patterns, horn (antler?) or wooden tweezers and antler arrow flakers with etched dot and circle designs, gaming pieces variously ornamented, and so on. And, of course, the basketry with their geometric imbricated designs and wild-goat hair robes with intertwined colored thread patterns. (Teit 1900:182, 188, 191, 199-202, 205, 227, 240, 263-266, 272-273)

In the late 1800s many pictographs existed in Thompson country. Most had been made by boys and girls during their puberty rituals. Teit's Thompson informants provided him with "readings" of many of these, indicating that the pictographic tradition was still alive during their youth (Boas 1900:381-382). Many pictographs existed on Stein Creek, a mountain stream that enters the Fraser River about 5 miles above Lytton. This was a favorite sector for seeking guardian spirits, according to Hill-Tout (1900:505-506), of the shamanistic variety. These rock patterns were made by these aspirants, sometimes as high as 20 or 30 feet up the face of sheer cliffs.


Dancing among the Thompson was both a social and a religious event, or at least those described in the following paragraphs were such.

During the course of the year, the people of each neighborhood met from time to time for an entire day to feast, dance, and pray. In winter the dancing was in a large semisubterranean dwelling; in the open seasons, the dances were held in certain places through the tribal territory where the people could easily assemble and the land surface was suitable, as on sandy flats beside a large river. In preparation, the surface was smoothed and, if too sandy, was sprinkled with clay brought from elsewhere. (Teit 1900:350-352)

The people assembled early in the morning, finely dressed and wearing wide belts, headbands often ornamented with dentalia, and their ornaments. All faces were painted in various colors and patterns: all red, red vertical stripes (chiefs), black (warriors?), red with micaceous spots (some women), alternate stripes of red and yellow, etc. With them each woman brought food to share. (Teit 1900:351-352)

The dances, beginning at sunrise, involved moving in a circular fashion in three concentric rows. They were led by a chief, who prayed and kept time, and by an assistant chief. The foot movements were accompanied by singing, praying, and symbolic arm and hand movements. Visions were sometimes experienced. During the first of the four morning dances, young men and women were allowed to touch one another to indicate their desires for marriage. At the close of these four dances, a communal feast, accompanied by prayers, was held with some of the food that had been brought by the women. Another set of four dances took place during the afternoon. These were followed by a second feast. Finally at sunset, a third series of dances occurred. Upon their conclusions, the people dispersed to their own houses. (Teit 1900:353)

A number of other dance types were enjoyed by the Thompson in connection with other sorts of occasions. One or more women or sometimes a man simply rose and danced, at the close of which they gave presents to the spectators for watching them perform. Birds (like the prairie chicken) and animals (e.g., the hare) were at times imitated in their normal actions of feeding and so on, creatures selected because their activities were suited to dance imitation and also because they were rarely the guardian spirits of anyone. During dances it was common for performers of both sexes to put bird-down in their hair (but not eagle-down which was reserved for shamans) and to paint the face red or in perpendicular red stripes. (Teit 1900:385-386)


The Thompson had very few musical instruments. Drums were used, however, to accompany dancing and singing. They were of a large circular shape, the frame of birch or hardwood and the single head of fawn skin, preferably previously used as clothing. Generally the head was painted with symbolic designs. To the rim, deer hoofs were attached to rattle. These drums were beaten by hand or with a stick with the end wrapped with skin and packed with deer hair and adorned with pendant hawk feathers. Although Teit fails to mention them, drums consisting of a raised plank or log placed on the floor are reported by Ray (1942:186) as having been used by the Lower Thompson. Sticks were also beaten together or against the ground to accompany dancers. (Boas 1900:299, 383-385; Ray 1942:185-187)

Deer-hoof anklets were worn in dances. This according to Boas (1900:384, using Teit's data) was the only Thompson rattle, but Ray (1942:186) states that the plain wooden rattle was also a Lower Thompson instrument.

Apparently the Thompson had neither whistles nor flutes as musical instruments (Boas 1900:383-385; Ray 1942:186-187). A leaf whistle was in use, however, in calling game, hence was not a musical instrument in functional terms (Ray 1942:187).

The many songs of the Thompson were classified by them into the following principal categories: lyric songs dealing with love, valorous deeds, etc.; dance songs; war songs; shaman's songs; sweat-lodge songs; mourning songs; prayer or religious songs; gambling songs used in the stick game (lehal); and cradle songs. (Boas 1900:384-385)

Feasting and Social Visiting

Feasts occurred in cold weather when the winter dwellings were occupied. Many were simply social gatherings to which neighboring families were invited to enjoy good and plentiful food and to talk. Others were more formally designed, though still social in their character. These consisted of a visit by one or more families as a group to a friend in the same community or in another village. A messenger, generally a women, was sent ahead to announce the coming visit, often leaving a present upon her departure. The host-to-be, with the aid of his friends, gathered and prepared the necessary food, especially quantities of a dish made of roots, berries, black lichen, and deer fat. Soon after their arrival, the visitors were feasted. On their departure after two or three days, they left presents for those who had assisted the host with the food and other preparations. (Teit 1900:296)

On other occasions three or four men went to a friend's semisubterranean house about bedtime, lowered a stone, decorated with feathers and with a cedar-bark "slow-match" attached, down the smoke-hole entrance, and, singing, swung it evasively from side to side. When it was finally caught by the occupants, the visitors threw in bundles of food, clothing, and the like while those inside scrambled for them. At some later date, the visit was returned in similar fashion. (Teit 1900:297)

The practice of wealthy persons giving large feasts of horse meat and distributing property as often as they could -- a kind of attenuated "potlatch" -- reached the Upper Thompson about 1850, though it had been adopted by the Lower Thompson somewhat earlier. Providing these occasions gained a person a great name for liberality and wealth. They were, however, not potlatches in the coastal sense: they were small and localized and the articles given away were presents, not calling for return gifts of any kind. They were apparently also devoid of the obsessive element of competition and of the ceremonial aspects of the coastal potlatch. In earlier times a wealthy man gave feasts to his friends in an open house arrangement, with visiting strangers invited to participate and receive small presents. One may suppose that the later, larger feast and gift distribution pattern was a further development of this earlier practice of generosity, with some knowledge of, and under the indirect influence of, the far more elaborate, complex, and formalized potlatch of the coast. (Teit 1900:297)

Games and Athletic Activities

Teit (1900:272-282) describes many games of the Thompson in considerable detail. The following is an abbreviated summary of his data.

Men played a game with carved or painted sticks. In each set of sticks two were encircled to mark them. Each of the two players spread his gambling mat before him and placed on it a bundle of dry grass. The beginning player took one of his marked sticks and an unencircled one, rolled them up in the grass, and placed them on the mat. His opponent then guessed which of the two sticks was the unmarked one. And so it went, score being kept with counters. (Teit 1900:272-273)

Women enjoyed a game played with beaver-teeth dice, marked variously on one side. They were thrown down on a blanket or skin and were counted according to how the markings fell. (Teit 1900:272)

Men played a ring and spear game. The ring was a stick bent into a circle and covered with buckskin, the unfilled space being packed with sand to make the ring solid and heavy. The ring inside the central hole had sewed to it six variously valued counters. The player rolled the ring, ran after it, and threw his small spear so that the ring would land on it. The value of the throw was determined by how the counters lay on the spear. (Teit 1900:274)

A game played outside in good weather but inside the dwelling when cold was enjoyed by children and occasionally adults. It involved rolling a ring between two rows of players, while these latter threw feathered darts with a sharp point at the ring as it passed. The objective was to strike the ring and have the dart penetrate it. (Teit 1900:275)

In another game a small, finger-sized ring was placed on the ground about 10 feet from the players, each of whom threw two feathered darts at the ring, attempting to drop them into the center of the ring. (Teit 1900:275)

A very popular game was the "guessing game," "stick game," or "lehal." It was played by both men and women among the Upper Thompson, but rarely by women of the Lower Division. Players knelt in two facing rows. Each side had two short "bones," one marked and the other not. The "hiding side," while beating time with sticks and singing their gambling song, passed the bones through their hands for a time and then invited their opponents to guess which hand held the unmarked bone. (Teit 1900:275-276; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:507-508)

A game with birch bark cards, marked with dots, was played according to Teit (1900:276-277). I assume that this was not a traditional precontact diversion, but cannot document this fact.

Two games were played with a smoothened, round ball fashioned of a knot that grew on fir trees and sometimes covered with buckskin. One of these games resembled roughly our baseball. The other was a form of lacrosse, played by two teams with crooked, webbed sticks to catch and throw the ball, the aim being to get the ball over the opponent's goal. (Teit 1900:277-278; cf. Hill-Tout 1900:507)

Boys' games included trying to catch a grass ball, tied to a string, with a wooden pin as the ball fell; throwing pebbles over ice and trying to strike stones on the smooth surface; and catching a bouncing pebble, covered with skin, with a handled net as it reached the bottom of a hill. (Teit 1900:278-279)

Smaller boys and girls played "cat's cradle," creating "deer," a "conical lodge," a '-'man stealing wood," and so on. They enjoyed hide-and- seek. They played with slings, tops of wood or bark, "bull-roarers" consisting of a piece of wood that produced a humming noise when swung rapidly from the end of a cord, and birch-bark or fir-bough toboggans. They made figures of birds, canoes, and the like on the ground with pebbles and they drew figures in the sand with sticks. Boys tried to spear balls of grass as they floated down a swift stream. The games children played were many and varied. (Ray 1942:184; Teit 1900:281-282)

Men, women, and children all enjoyed swimming, virtually every person possessing this skill, some the ability to swim long distances.

Men shot arrows at the nock of an arrow previously shot into a sandy bank, occasionally as far as 100 yards distant. Adult athletic games included foot-races, high running jump, long running jump, wrestling, and lifting of heavy stones. These competitive events were sometimes intertribal affairs. Thompson parties, for example, at times journeyed to a famous sporting center of the Upper Okanagan near Penticton to take part in such activities. The "tug-of-war" game was a common diversion. Betting accompanied all of these athletic competitions. (Ray 1942:182; Teit 1900:279, 280-281, 1930b:261)


The smoking of wild tobacco, which grew in the warmest valleys of Thompson country, was an old practice of the men. In theory the use of the plant was considered the privilege of persons possessing supernatural power, shamans being the most notable members of this group, but since every (or virtually every) man had such power, smoking was practiced by a great many men. Women, however, seldom or never smoked. The Lower Thompson smoked much less than the upper bands of the tribe. (Teit 1900:302, 350)

The tobacco leaves were gathered, dried, and greased. When used, they were broken up and mixed with dried and roasted bearberry leaves. (Ray 1942:187; Teit 1900:300)

Tubular pipes were in use in the real old days. In more recent times pipes were L-shaped and generally of stone, though occasionally of sagebrush root or a buck's antler. Typically they had high, narrow bowls and long stems of maple wood. Occasionally they were provided with double bowls. Stone bowls were sometimes carved to represent heads of animals, birds, or men and were decorated in other ways, as with beads and feathers. They were kept in tubular buckskin bags with an opening in one end; these bags, sometimes fringed and ornamented with porcupine quills, were hung around the neck.

The social custom of passing a pipe around among all the men in a circle was common before speeches and discussions. Often two friends, meeting, smoked together briefly as a sign of good will before beginning their conversation. Smoking as a simple pastime was especially an evening practice and one enjoyed while storytelling. (Ray 1942:188; Teit 1900:300, 302)

A special rite was carried out by the occupants of each lodge when the first tobacco of the season was gathered and smoked. All the men and women who smoked sat in a circle while an elderly man in the center cut up the new tobacco, mixed it with roasted bearberry leaves, and filled a large pipe with the material. The pipe was sent around the circle, each person briefly smoking it ceremonially. (Teit 1900:349-350)

Myths and Legends

Several early and extensive collections of Thompson traditional myths and legends have appeared in print. Particularly notable are those of Hill-Tout (1900:534-583) and Teit (1898,1912,1917,1937).

The mythology of the Upper Thompson, Boas (1898) has written based on his analysis of about fifty tales recorded by Teit (1898) in the 1890s, exhibits an unusual interest in mythic transformers and their activities. There were four such beings that, in their own ways, changed the shape of the world: Coyote and the three brothers Qoa'qLqaL (the most important of the trio), Kokwe'la, and Old Man. In general, they undertook their transformations, by fair means or foul, largely to serve their own personal and sometimes selfish ends. These changes were sometimes to the benefit of mankind to come, but others were for the worse. These beings were not, therefore, truly benevolent, altruistic entities, motivated by a desire to remake the world into a more pleasant and fruitful place.

Of these four transformers Coyote was the most important to judge from this early mythic corpus. A being of great power, he was responsible for many of the physical features of the countryside, some, largely incidentally, to the advantage of future generations. In many of his activities, on the other hand, he proved to be a sly trickster with motivations and behavior contrary to the traditional Thompson ethical canons. The Coyote mythology was, in Boas' view, both coastal and Plateau in its affiliation.

Of the three brothers, Qoa'qLqaL was no more altruistically intentioned than Coyote. The myths involving this supernatural personage were linked, Boas believed, to the mythic tradition of the lower Fraser peoples and were brought to the Thompson from that area in somewhat simplified form. Old Man appears in few elaborate Thompson myths and these seem related to the tales of the Kutenai of the southeastern corner of British Columbia and to those of the northern Great Plains region. Where Old Man appears he is often in power contests with Qoa'qLqaL. While most of the Thompson myths in this early Teit compilation are palpable borrowings from other tribes, they exhibit modifications in detail that adapt them more closely to the physical environment of Thompson country and to the tribe's cultural ../background.

Clearly in this analysis Boas' interests focus on the transformers' roles in making the world as it was in Thompson traditional times -- or from the Thompson point of view on how and why prominent physical features of their territory came to be -- and on area-wide diffusional relationships of the myths. In a recent evaluation of Teit's myth recordings, Maud (1982:68-69) argues inter alia that his myth assemblage of 1898 was collected with Boas' current interests in mind and that it is atypical of Thompson myths as a whole. The Thompson, Maud contends, were not nearly as concerned with etiological explanations of terrain features and the actions of natural forces -- like thunder -- as this particular collection suggests.

So far as Teit (1900:178) was aware, the Lower Thompson had no migration legends. In relation to this fact and its possible interpretation, a cautionary observation is in order. The absence of such traditions does not necessarily signify a population long resident in a particular area. Nor, contrary to some ethnographic opinion in the past (cf. Turney-High 1937:11-12), does the presence of migration accounts mean the reverse. Myths, legends, and traditions were such only, and may be historically essentially factual records of past events, or contain germs of historical fact, or be entirely fanciful. Only other kinds of evidence of a cultural, linguistic, archaeological, or biological-genetic sort afford commanding documentation in regard to human population stability and movements.

Unfortunately neither time nor space permits summaries and analyses of this extensive body of mythology. A careful sifting of these myths (and likewise of the published Thompson traditions) for bits of cultural information and traditional behavioral insights, the introduction of these data fragments into this present study, and a comparison of this information with the ethnographic facts collected by Teit, Hill-Tout, and Ray to illustrate possible Thompson culture change through time would be a useful and perhaps even revealing exercise. As

Teit (1930c:416) points out, for example, not a single reference to facial and body tattooing occurs in his myth collection, a curious fact considering its universal practice within the tribe in early traditional times.


This section deals with those elements of Thompson traditional culture that are largely mental in their base or that rely importantly on a ../background of "observational" knowledge of a weakly empirical variety. Such, for example, are their notions of time and distance, their patterns of conventional gestures and signs, and, partly for lack of a more appropriate location within this ethnographic summary, their medicinal drugs, practices, and beliefs, some of which were surely efficacious while others were plainly nostrums (like folk-medicine every where), the potency of which, if such there was, was mental.

Time and Distance Units

The year was divided by the Lower Thompson into both lunar months and seasons. The latter recognized the major temperature and weather changes through the year. The former bore names indicating typical and important human activities associated with the period and, during the open span of months, the foods secured. These food-referencing designations underscore the absolutely fundamental importance of the subsistence quest to the people as opposed, for example, to one that might call attention to significant social or religious activities.

It is of particular interest that considerable differences prevailed between the moon designations of the Lower Thompson and those of the Upper Division, and further in regard to the moon that marked the year's beginning (Teit 1900:237). One may wonder if these variations are not somehow tied to subtle local environmental differences in the timing and importance of various regularly-occurring natural events in the various population clusters.

In general the Thompson, apparently including the Lower Division, commenced their year with the beginning of the deer rutting season. But many Lower people began theirs with the mountain goat rutting time. Also as exceptions, among various Upper Thompson subgroups the lunar year was thought to begin at the end of the deer rutting season or when the ground-hogs entered their winter dens, or -- especially in the case of shamans -- with the rutting season of the bighorn sheep. (Teit 1900:237)

Among the Lower Thompson, the common schedule was as follows, with the moons indicated as numbers. Moon 1, deer rutting time; 2, people enter winter houses; 3, last people enter winter dwellings; 4, alternate cold and warm winds: some people camp out in lodges; 5, last cold: people reenter winter houses for a time; 6, winter dwellings left for good; fish bag-netted; 7, short hunts; 8, berries picked; 9, salmon fishing began; 10, salmon caught and cured; 11, salmon oil prepared; finally "autumn" (unnumbered), large game hunted and smaller animals trapped. (Ray 1942:189; Teit 1900:238-239)

Five seasons were recognized by the Thompson according to Teit (1900:239; 1930b:347): (1) winter beginning with the first snows that stayed on the ground and ending with its disappearance from the valleys; (2) spring, the period of frequent Chinook winds; (3) summer, three lunar months long; (4) early autumn, two months in length; (5) late fall, a season of indefinite length because the time of the initial snowfall varied. The Lower Thompson year was divided into six seasons according to Ray's (1942:189) informant.

The heavens were also observed by the Thompson, and its phenomena were interpreted in various ways. For example, by sitting on certain rocks and viewing the sun's position in relation to specific trees or other marks on the mountains, the old-time Thompson determined the solstices "within a day" of their correct timing. A few constellations were perceived and named by the Lower Thompson. The position of the Little Dipper in the sky at night indicated the time. Closed parhelia were thought to foretell cold weather; so also light paraselene. The characteristics of the sunrise and sunset were also regarded as predicting future weather. The Lower Thompson saw a frog or a coyote on the moon. (Ray 1942:189-190; Teit 1900:239)

Only two of the cardinal directions were important to the Lower Division: toward the sunrise and in the direction of the sunset (Ray 1942:189-190).

Gestures, Signs, and Signals

Meaningful hand movements were considered essential to effective speaking and story narration. Many of these gestures were quite specific in their meaning and so were used when oral communication was unwise, as when hunting and on raids. Teit (1900:283-287) lists 87 gestures of this sign language. Sharp and subtle distinctions were made in subject areas of cultural importance. For example, signs distinguished between deer generically, buck, doe, buck sighted, buck trotting, deer jumping, deer lying down, deer falling, doe moving slowly and looking from side to side, deer on the alert, deer risen, and deer walking.

Shouting in different patterns and bird and animal cry imitations were used by hunters to communicate information regarding the advance of the hunt. In high-mountain hunting near spirit haunts, special call signals were employed to enable hunters to distinguish between their own signals and the calls of spirits, using the usual signs, to summon hunters to them. (Teit 1900:287)

A complex pattern of simple but effective signs served to pass significant information to parties that might be following. These involved the use of sticks of varying sizes in different numbers and positions, of leaves that would wilt in time, and of animal bones or hair. These materials told, for instance, how many persons had left the camp, in what direction they had gone, the time of day of their departure and, by deduction, the number of days elapsed since they had left, the number of animals (if any) they had killed, the number of horses they had packing meat, and the number of enemy killed if the group was a war party. Branches were broken and left hanging as a party proceeded to apprise followers of the trail taken (Teit 1900:287-288).

Ethical Concepts and Conduct Codes

It was bad, the Thompson held, to steal, be unvirtuous, lie, be lazy, commit adultery, boast unless one were great, be cowardly, borrow often, be inhospitable or stingy, or be quarrelsome. The social consequences of such behavior differed in detail, but in general a person guilty of such condemned actions would be laughed at, gossiped about, avoided, mocked, and dishonored, and would find himself friendless and not trusted in speech or action. (Teit 1900:366-367) Surely this is a catalog of consequences that most Thompson were at consider able pains to avoid.

On the other side of the coin, it was:

good to be pure, cleanly, honest, truthful, brave, friendly, hospitable, energetic, bold, virtuous, liberal, kind-hearted to friends, diligent, independent, modest, affable, social, charitable, religous and worshipful, warlike, honorable, stout-hearted, grateful, faithful, revengeful to enemies, industrious. (Teit 1900:367)

To ensure proper behavior some old person of the household especially on winter nights talked to the people, particularly the young, about acceptable behavior and its rewards and the unfortunate results of improper acts. He related his war and hunting experiences and his ideas of future life. He told the tribal myths. Often elderly persons took turns at telling the myths and legends until all their hearers had fallen asleep. (Teit 1900:367)

Secular Medicines and Medical Treatments

Ailments considered of natural causation -- as opposed to those resulting from witchcraft, failure to ob serve guardian spirit dictates or customary procedures as in hunting and fishing, and inimical actions of the dead -- were treated among the Thompson by various medicines, many of which consisted of plant substances. Fifty-four plant taxa were collected by Teit (1900:368-370) during his field research in the 1890s and are cases in point. They include medicines for a wide range of internal ailments, for unusual body statuses (e.g., chills), and for abnormal external conditions (e.g., burns, running sores), and others even to cause cradled infants to sleep.

These plants are listed by Teit according to their uses. Here they are reordered by plant form, alphabetized by Teit's botanical binomial. A further treatment of this roster can be found in the Steedman (1930) ethnobotanical analysis. Certain of Teit's plant identifications are now greatly outmoded. An attempt has been made elsewhere to mesh these old and now abandoned binomials with the contemporary taxonomy of botanists and to define the habitat characteristics, altitudinal preferences, and biogeoclimatological associations of them (Smith 1985a). These matters are, however, too complex to discuss here.

Teit's catalog of 54 medicinal plants follows:

1. Abies grandis. Decoction of young shoots and sometimes bark as a stomachic; (?-)very strong decoction of gum and bark for gonorrhea. Possibly as curative for other health problems.

2. Acer glabrum. (?) Decoction of wood and bark drunk for sickness caused by exhalations from corpse.

3. Achillea millefolium. Leaves roasted until dry and brittle, powdered, and applied to running sore. Used in other medicines.

4. Anemone multifida. Bunch of fresh leaves and flowers placed across nostrils for nose bleed.

5. Apocynum cannabinum. Precise medicinal use unreported.

6. Arabis drummondii. Decoction of whole plant for kidney disease; very strong decoction of entire plant for gonorrhea; powder of leaves and stalks, sometimes -- but rarely -- mixed with grease, for running sore.

7. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. Decoction of leaves and stems as tonic; decoction of root for blood spitting; water in which leaves and stems have been boiled as eye wash.

8. Artemisia canadensis. Decoction of whole plant for diarrhea.

9. A. tridentata. Decoction of stems and leaves for colds; bunches of stems and leaves, or leaves only, tied to nostrils for colds.

10. Asclepias speciosa. Precise medicinal use unreported.

11. Astragalus purshii. Precise medicinal use unreported.

12. Canothus velutinus. Decoction of stems and leaves drunk for dull pain and applied externally at same time to aching area. Decoction of four or five branches boiled for 24 hours together with four or five branches of Shepherdia canadensis (46); three large cupfuls drunk for gonorrhea for three days. Decoction used as a wash.

13. Chaenactis douglasii. Precise medicinal use unreported.

14. Chimaphila umbellata. Precise medicinal use unreported.

15. Clematis ligusticifolia. Precise medicinal use unreported.

16. Cornus pubescens. Decoction as tonic; decoction of wood, bark, and leaves drunk after childbirth.

17. Delphinium menziesii. (?) Decoction as tonic.

18. Equisetum. Ashes of burned stems as powder for burns.

19. Erigeron filifolium. Precise medicinal use unreported.

20. Eriogonum heracleoides. Entire plant with root roasted, powdered, mixed with grease, and applied to swelling with running sore. Precise other uses not reported.

21. Euphorbia glyptosperma. Rubbed on rattlesnake bite.

22. Fatsia horrida. Decoction of stems, cut in small pieces, as blood medicine; water in which mashed stems have been soaked drunk as stomachic; stems burned and ashes mixed with grease and applied to swelling with running sore.

23. Ferula dissoluta. Root roasted until brittle, powdered, applied to running sore.

24. Fragaria californica. Plant boiled slightly and used as wash.

25. Gaillardia aristata. Precise medicinal use unreported.

26. Geum triflorum. Precise medicinal use unreported.

27. Helianthus lenticularis. Dried, powdered, and used for running sore.

28. Heracleum lanatum. Decoction of root used occasionally for syphilis; decoction of root used for purification. Other medicinal uses but not specifically reported.

29. Juniperus communis. Decoction of stems and needles as stomachic; decoction as eye wash; decoction of stems and needles used for purification.

30. J. virginiana. Very small quantities of berries eaten fresh for kidney disease.

31. Nicotiana attenuata. Decoction as head wash for falling hair.

32. Penstemon menziesii. Decoction of stems, flowers, and leaves for kidney disease; stems, flowers, and leaves soaked in cold or warm water and used as eye wash.

33. Peucedanum macrocarpum. Leaves used as cradle padding, causing child to sleep and not be troublesome.

34. Picea sp. Decoction of needles and young shoots as wash for purification.

35. Pinus contorta. (?) Ointment from boiled gum, mixed with deer grease, rubbed on body for pains.

36. P. ponderosa. (?) Salve of boiled gum mixed with bear grease for eyes; (?) ointment of gum boiled and mixed with bear grease for sores.

37. Populus tremuloides. Decoction of stems and branches drunk freely for syphilis, accompanied by cold sitz bath of several hour's duration in same decoction; powder made of ashes of the wood, sometimes mixed with grease, for swellings with running sores; decoction used as a wash; used as medicines in other ways not described.

38. Potentilla glandulosa. (?) Precise medicinal use unreported.

39. Prunus demissa. Bark decoction as tonic; decoction of bark drunk after childbirth.

40. Pseudotsuga douglasii. (?) Decoction of branches or twigs as body wash for purification; (?) other medicinal uses also but undescribed.

41. Rhus glabra. Decoction a powerful syphilis remedy.

42. Ribes sp. Decoction of root as stomachic.

43. R. hudsonianum. (?) Decoction of leaves and stems for cold and sore throat; (?) decoction of leaves and stems as stomach medicine.

44. R. lacustre. Water in which cambium layer has been soaked used as eye wash.

45. Rosa gymnocarpa. Decoction of stems as tonic; water in which bark has been boiled used as eye wash; other medicinal uses but specifics not reported.

46. Rubus sp. Decoction of leaves for blood spitting; decoction of root as stomach medicine; decoction of leaves "for vomiting," [i.e., evidently to cause, not cure, vomiting condition].

47. Salix sp. Precise medicinal use unreported.

48. S. longifolia. (?) Precise medicinal use unreported.

49. Sheperdia canadensis. For decoction for gonorrhea see Canothus velutinus (12 above); decoction of bark as stomachic; decoction of bark [drunk] for purification; other medicinal uses known but unreported.

50. Spiraea betulifolia. Precise medicinal uses unreported.

51. Symphoricarpos racemosus. Decoction of stems as stomach medicine; other medicinal uses known but unreported.

52. Valeriana sylvatica. (?) Decoction of root for colds.

53. Veratrum californicum. Decoction made by boiling for a long time ashes of burned dried root used as blood medicine; decoction, in small doses, of ashes of burned dried root, mixed with bluestone reduced to ashes, drunk as medicine for syphilis.

54. Zygadenus elegans. Mashed-up root baked in ashes or roasted at a fire and rubbed on paining body part.

The significant implications of these botanical data for an understanding of how the Thompson utilized their homeland, including the Park segment, are analyzed and discussed at length by Smith (1985a) elsewhere and have been deleted from this present study in the interest of report brevity.

Only two roots are mentioned specifically by Ray (1942:131) as having been used by the Lower Thompson for their medicinal properties: those of the sunflower and the soapberry. The sunflower is, however, a non- native, introduced plant, but perhaps the native and visually similar balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) is intended. According to Turner (1978:216) Plateau Indians often call the sunflower by the term they apply to the balsamroot, or at least the seeds of the two by the same designation. Soapberry (Shepherdia canadensis) appears in the preceding Teit list.

Animal parts also served curative needs (Teit 1900:368-370):

  • Dried beaver testicles were soaked in water and the liquid drunk for severe and sudden pain. The testes were redried and retained for future use.
  • Bluejay meat was eaten "for vomiting," presumably meaning to promote that condition.
  • A mixture of oil and water in which sturgeon liver had been boiled was drunk "for vomiting,"- again, I gather, to induce it.
  • Rotten matter -- -e.g., decomposed salmon -- which was full of worms was used to treat blisters on the feet. The person walked on it, remained off his feet until sundown, and then washed his feet in cold water.

More general descriptions of several additional medicines are provided by Teit (1900:368-370):

  • Hot fir branches or small sacks or pieces of skin filled with hot ashes were applied to the abdomen for colic or cramps. Hot liquids were drunk for this same purpose.
  • The sweat bath was resorted to for pains, soreness, or stiffness in any part of the body. This condition was also treated by repeated, and sometimes violent, rubbing of the area with the hands; by applying hot fir branches, ashes, coals, or stones; and by drinking hot water or medicine.
  • Women's milk served as eye wash.
  • Herbs were rubbed on the arms to purify them.
  • Rattlesnake bites were treated by tying one or two wet buckskin strings, rubbed with red ocher and having as an attachment the head of a weasel or ermine, very tightly just above the punctures. When the region became greatly swollen, they were unfastened and tightly retied four or five inches higher up. "Cutting, burning, and sucking the wound . . . [were] resorted to," herbs were rubbed on the affected area, and shamans with rattlesnake guardian spirits performed incantations to aid in the recovery, all, I gather, after the application of the string bindings.

While sweat-bathing had a very significant ritual purification function, it also served importantly both in keeping physically clean and, in the Thompson mind, in curing certain ailments. Sicknesses were also occasionally cured by eating certain foods as prescribed by shamans who received the instructions from their guardian spirits in their dreams. (Teit 1900:370)

The Thompson performed a number of surgical operations, not all simple in nature. Boils were pierced with porcupine quills, and aching joints with large, sharp awls. Cataracts were removed, it is said, by touching the eyeball with a rough, charred bone from a black bear, causing the thick skin to adhere to the bone, raising the skin, and cutting it with a very sharp knife. Warts were removed by cutting them off close to the skin and applying black lichen which had been exposed to the fire until hot. Thought to represent subsurface accumulations of blood, moles were lacerated with an arrow point and allowed to bleed freely. Rheumatic areas were cauterized by placing powdered charcoal on the aching spots and burning it. (Teit 1900:370)


An attempt is made in the following pages to extract from the preceding ethnographic data all information relating directly or by implication to the Thompson use of the mountainous segments of their traditional territory and to organize these materials into a meaningful whole. The basic data having already been presented, literature citations often seem unnecessary and are accordingly frequently omitted.

The data of Teit and Collins together demonstrate that the Lower Thompson regarded the northern and northeastern segment of the Park and particularly all but the southernmost portion of the Ross Lake Recreation Area as a part of their traditional hunting and gathering territory, although the southern fringe of this lake area and the flanking mountains were likewise claimed by the Upper Skagit as within their subsistence grounds. From the Lower Thompson viewpoint this region was nothing more than a natural southern extension down the Skagit Valley of their Cascades Mountain country north of the British Columbia boundary. That the Lower Thompson not only claimed this region but made more than occasional use of it is independently attested to by the Upper Skagit record of their hunting parties having encountered Thompson parties in the area.

That the Lower Thompson exploited mountain country to any considerable degree may seem strange at first blush, for they wintered in their villages down in the deep, narrow Fraser Canyon between Spuzzum and Siska, spent much of the warmer season at their superb salmon fisheries along the Fraser, rarely saw people from neighboring villages owing to the difficulties of travel in the canyon, and, as the observations of Fraser and Mayne attest, must have found formidable and fatiguing the climb up out of the canyon, quite apart from the ascent of the mountain slopes themselves. Further, if Teit's appraisal bears weight, the Lower Thompson "were quieter and steadier ... [than the people of the Upper Division and] slower and less energetic." And more: "They... [were] better fishermen [than the Upper Thompson] and more expert in handling canoes," implying in general a lesser ability or lesser interest as hunters. Still, the Thompson as a whole are described by Teit as having been fond of hunting and some were remarkably determined and persevering in their pursuit of game. This was hardly less true of the Lower Thompson, although by and large they plainly devoted less time during the year to hunting activities.

The ethnographic and ethnohistorical literature as I know it unfortunately says next to nothing explicitly and in an organized fashion concerning the Thompson use of their high country in subsistence and other activities. Such data as exist are widely scattered through the literature and are often almost in the nature of minor asides and chance remarks in many different subject contexts. Assembled as they are below, they are, however, reasonably full and, while far less comprehensive and detailed than one would like, are sufficient to establish the importance of the mountains to the Thompson and outline the principal associations of the tribe with this elevated terrain. Because these data are mostly generic Thompson data, they reveal very little about any differences that may have existed between the way in which the two divisions exploited their individual upper elevation resources. This appears, however, to be a relatively insignificant problem. However much the life patterns of the Lower people in their canyon centers may have differed from those of the Upper Division in their low, open country upstream from the gorge, the two groups could hardly have lived in their respective high lands very differently and made use of the animal and plant resources there in a very different manner, except as these responses were conditioned by minor biogeoclimatological variations between the two regions: the Lower country was largely in the Cascades and west of the mountain crests; the Upper extended eastward from the Cascades watershed down through the high mountains and out into the ponderosa-bunchgrass country. Similarly we are even more poorly informed about any differences that may have prevailed between the Lower Thompson use of their particular mountainous lands north of the present international border as against those in the Park region to the south. Here, however, there were notable biogeoclimatic differences that should be commented upon: above the line were six of these biozones in the remarkably ecologically diverse Lower Thompson homeland; below, only three (Franklin and Dyrness 1973; Krajina 1969; Smith 1985a). The significance of this difference in terms of the animal and plant resources of these Lower people has not yet been fully assessed, though a beginning has been made in this direction (Smith 1985a). At this point, because of the extent to which most animals and plants of the Lower Thompson territory occurred over a considerable elevational range and were adapted to varied habitat zones, it appears that the fact that the ecological base south of the boundary was more limited was of no great importance in practical subsistence terms (Clark 1973, 1976; Henry 1915; Piper and Beattie 1914,1915; Smith 1985a; Taylor and MacBryde 1977). Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume provisionally that, unless the ethnographic facts or bioenvironmental data explicitly indicate otherwise, the general Thompson mountain-use information is in the main acceptably descriptive of the Lower Thompson use patterns within the Park sector.

Deer, salmon, roots, and berries were the staple foods of the Thompson tribe, deer being the principal food of the Upper Division as salmon was of the Lower people. It seems to follow that Teit (1900:230) is referring in particular to the Upper Thompson when reporting that

a large portion of the tribe lived in the mountains during the greater part of the year, moving about from one root-digging or deer-hunting ground to another, according to the harvest-time of certain roots and berries, or as the deer changed their feeding-grounds during the seasons.... Only when winter set in did they return to their winter houses.

Still, the Upper bands took many salmon at their Fraser and Thompson River fisheries: Simpson, for instance, reports small salmon camps at each rapid on the lower Thompson River in October of 1828. During much of the salmon period -- especially in the autumn -- the Lower Thompson, for their part, made good use of their excellent canyon-bottom fisheries, which yielded plentifully every year. And yet they, too, hunted game and collected roots and berries to an important extent. When engaged in these pursuits, Lower Division hunters and their wives, no less than the Upper people, must have followed the seasonal pattern described by Teit above.

The diversity of the subsistence base of the Thompson as a whole and the Lower Thompson more particularly is well illustrated by their calendric terms and these, in turn, furnish oblique insights into their subsistence utilization of their mountainous country. The moons of the year were designated according to the principal activities of the people, the main food obtained during the period, or some notable feature of the natural rhythm of the local animal or plant life. In counting moons, many Lower Thompson commenced with the rutting season of mountain goats. In view of the general Thompson practice of counting from the deer mating season or, in the case of one Upper Thompson band, from the entry of ground hogs into their winter dens, this alternative Lower Thompson pattern suggests the special importance of mountain goats to this division of the tribe. The designation of the months by the Lower Thompson also reveals those segments of the year during which the mountains were mainly visited in their subsistence quest. With the first month considered to be that of the deer rutting, the second through the fifth month found the people in their winter lodges. In the sixth, the second moon of the two spring months, they took fish in bag nets; in the seventh they went out on short hunts; and in the eighth they picked berries. During the ninth (the last summer moon) and the tenth and eleventh moons (the early autumn months) the Lower Thompson were primarily involved in catching and preparing their salmon. The final month, of somewhat indeterminate length and equivalent to late autumn, was the season when the people hunted large game and went trapping. Viewed as a sequence, these month terms imply that notable Lower Thompson journeys to the mountains took place in particular in early summer and even more importantly to the high country distant from their canyon winter villages and fisheries -- including and perhaps particularly to that in the North Cascades Park area -- in the mid- and late autumn period.

"Hunting, trapping, and snaring of game," Teit (1900:239) writes, "was one of the most important occupations of the Thompson Indians" as a whole. And even the Lower Thompson,

although they had an abundance of fish, spent much time in hunting. They even hunted on the mountains on the western slope of the Coast Range. Hunting parties who visited the most southern part of their hunting-grounds were sometimes absent for seven months, returning only when the snow began to melt in the mountains. (Teit 1900:239)

This is a particularly revealing statement on two points that intersect with the limited special concerns of this present study. First, in light of Teit's boundaries for the aboriginal Lower Thompson territory (Figure 3-1), reference to the southern portion of the group's hunting country must almost certainly allude to hunting activities in the North Cascades Park region. Second, the melting snow note makes plain a subsistence quest pattern that one would hardly suspect, one in which parties left their Fraser canyon center to hunt in the mountains during some or even all of the colder months of the year. When these trips lasted for the seven-month period, they must have extended from, say, October through April. The span of time is made more transparent by the Thompson moon count calendar already discussed. Other evidence indicates that these task groups that wintered in the Ross Lake sector occasionally remained in the lake area into or even through the following summer.

These data must signify that the Lower Thompson maintained winter camps in relatively high country, presumably including the Park area. While many may be assumed to have been temporary camps, others were surely more in the nature of bases of longer occupation. Unfortunately, there is to my knowledge no ethnographic information regarding the location, settlement plan, and other characteristics of these cold season, mountain hunting occupation sites.

So much for Thompson subsistence resources in general and the somewhat differing emphases placed upon these major categories by the two divisions. In the following paragraphs the three principal food quest activities -- hunting, fishing, and plant gathering -- are briefly examined as they relate to the high terrain segments of Thompson country.

For all the importance of salmon to the Lower Division, hunting was an indispensible food provider to these downriver people. Specialist hunters existed among them no less than among the Upper Thompson bands. The Thompson as a whole -- and so one must suppose the Lower group to a greater or lesser degree -- ate many deer, elk, bighorn sheep, beaver, porcupine, and squirrel as well as grouse, ducks, geese, cranes, and robins. Moreover, the downstream division also ate rock rabbits, animals not used as food by the Upper Thompson. Other animals were secured for purposes other than subsistence: e.g., for their various parts to be used technologically or as medicines. Principally the Lower Thompson "hunted ... mountain-goat, black bear, and marmots," while deer were most important among the Upper Division.

Considering the restricted character of the canyon homeland from virtually every point of view, most of the above animals must have been obtained in the high lands outside the canyon. Unlike some Upper Thompson bands, the Lower villagers "had few deer in their country," probably especially in and on the flanks of their canyon home but also to some extent in their mountain forests. Nevertheless, they used deer hides in many ways and, in fact, supplied the Upper Thompson with the skins of black-tailed deer for making superior moccasins. Certainly the mountain goats that furnished the wool for their woven blankets and ponchos and the skins for moccasin stuffers, the marmots from which, when tanned, robes were fabricated, the elk whose skins -- like those of deer -- were made into caps and headbands, and the bear from the skins of which foot wrappers were fashioned for inside-moccasin wear were all hunted in the hills and high mountains beyond the canyon rim (cf. Dalquest 1948).

Details of the devices and methods employed by the Thompson in securing game have already been described. They need be noted here only as they relate, or may logically relate, in some measure to mountain hunting in general or to the Park region more specifically. These observations by Teit are largely of an oblique or incidental nature, but are nonetheless of considerable interest.

  • "Stone for their arrow-heads ... [was found by the Lower Thompson] near the head waters of Skagit River. Many points were made out of large chipped heads, which are found in great numbers in the valleys. The Indians believe that the latter were made by the Raven." (Teit 1900:241)
  • "Bows and arrows were the principal weapons used [by the Thompson] in the pursuit of game." Deer were generally hunted with these weapons, frequently with the aid of their excellent hunting dogs. According to Teit,

    To hunt deer single-handed required intimate knowledge of the deer's habits and of the ground which they frequent at different seasons, ability to take advantage of cover and to get within range, and capability to track and to shoot well. Some Indians, especially single men, while hunting on the mountains endured much hardship and exposure. Some of them would start out with cold weather in the winter-time, taking with them neither food nor other clothing than that which they wore. They lived entirely on what they shot, and used raw deerskins for blankets. They made rough kettles of spruce-bark or deer's paunches. A hole was dug in the soft ground near the fire, into which the kettle was placed, with brush underneath.. . . Hot stones were put in to boil the food. These paunches were also sometimes used as water pails. (Teit 1900:239, 244, 246)

  • "A favorite method of procuring deer was by means of deer-fences [which were owned by those who made them]. These were formerly very numerous, and their remains may still be seen [in the mid-1890s] in several parts of the mountains. They were in common use as late as . . . [1880]."

    Some of these fences were built in order to catch deer in the summer-time, but most of them were intended for capturing deer from the latter part of September to the beginning or middle of December, since they were placed in those parts of the mountains which the deer frequent at that time of the year. They were generally built in little valleys or defiles between mountains, and especially in those which were favorite places of deer crossing from one mountain to another, or at spots where large numbers of deer generally passed on their way down from the higher elevations to their winter grounds. (Teit 1900:246)

  • When sufficient hunters were on hand to join forces, deer were driven in winter often in "one of the larger gullies . . . as the deer frequent such places during cold weather." (Teit 1900:247)
  • "Deer and elk were . . . killed in winter, when there was very deep snow in the mountains, by being run down by hunters on snowshoes, who shot or clubbed them when near enough. Dogs also soon ran them down when the snow was deep and had a thick crust." (Teit 1900:248)
  • Nooses were set by the Lower Thompson on deer trails so as to catch the animal's head or antlers. Deer fences with nooses set in openings were, however, not much used by men of this Lower Division. (Teit 1900:247)
  • Black bear were usually hunted with bow and arrow, sometimes with dogs to assist, and were also trapped in deadfalls. (Teit 1900:249)
  • "Mountain goat and bighorn sheep were hunted with bow and arrows." (Teit 1900:249)
  • Beaver were occasionally hunted with dogs and killed with a spear with a bone point. (Teit 1900:249)
  • "Coyotes and foxes were often caught by digging or smoking them out of their holes." (Teit 1900:249)

How many of the animals reported above were available to hunters within the Park perimeters is not stated, but it appears from Dalquest (1948) that all but, it seems, the bighorn sheep should have been.

Further unequivocal evidence of Thompson hunting in high altitude country is provided by the fact that special communication signals were employed when parties were dispersed in the pursuit of game. "In hunting in the high mountains," Teit (1900:287) reports, "in those places which were thought to be the haunts of spirits, a different call was used, because, if the ordinary call were used, the spirits, it was said, imitated it, and might call one of the hunters to him."

Such data as we possess strongly suggest that the search for game was a principal motivation for Lower Thompson journeys into the higher elevations of their traditional territory and hence into the Park region.

The use of mountain goat wool by the Lower Thompson in making woven fabrics speaks further to the visits of parties to high elevations. It does not necessarily demonstrate hunting of the animals, however, though, as noted above, there is abundant other evidence for this practice: wool shed by the animals could be collected where, for example, caught in vegetation, it had been pulled from the animal.

There is little ethnographic information relating to the use of locations in the high mountains as fishing sites. As noted above, the stretch of the Fraser River occupied by the Lower Thompson was a rich salmon source. Owing to the nature of the river and its banks, it was particularly well suited to bag netting salmon, though not to spearing fish, fishing through holes in the ice, and, for the most part, to the use of weirs and traps. Furthermore, when they reached this area the salmon were still in good condition, and even in bad years they were plentiful. This being so, the Lower Thompson confined themselves to curing the fish they most esteemed -- chinook salmon. Sturgeon of small size were also taken by the people of the Lower Division. The implication of these data is that the Lower Thompson normally had little occasion to search for fish outside of the Fraser River canyon. (Teit 1900:251-254)

Nevertheless, at least some hook and line fishing was carried out by this Lower group in the high country, while the people were in the region for some other reason. For Teit (1900:253) writes: "A few mountain lakes . . . contain[ed] trout; and the people who camp[ed] near by for the purpose of hunting and digging roots, fish[ed] for them from rafts with hook and line." Whether salmon could be found in the Skagit River headwaters that were claimed by the Lower Thompson, I do not know, for I have seen no references to salmon above the Newhalem sector. But in view of the group's rich salmon fisheries on the Fraser, anadromous Skagit River fish, if available, could hardly have been important, except perhaps as fish consumed in the immediate area of the catch. Trout and other non-salmonids of many types were likewise fished for by the Thompson, especially during the spring and autumn. Because both were seasons to be in the mountains, this small fish taking must have occurred largely in the high country.

Roots, gathered in early summer and in autumn, and also berries were important in the Thompson subsistence base. There is to my knowledge, however, no listing of the plants sought by the tribe, or more specifically the Lower Division, for food in their mountain environments. This is the more surprising since it is said that most of the root harvest of the Lower people took place in the mountains, and even that most of the roots "were obtained in the higher mountains only." The address this information vacuum, relevant Thompson data have been culled from Turner's (1978) compilation of the traditional food plants of the interior British Columbia tribes. An effort has been made to identify those native to mountain terrain and those specifically stated to have been collected and eaten by the Lower Thompson. Inasmuch as these data are somewhat technical and the discussion is rather extended, these basic data and my preliminary analysis of them seem rather out of place in this more general survey. Accordingly, they appear as a separate item at the close of this section.

Both roots and berries were secured by women, which in itself indicates that entire families undertook the journeys to the high country during the collecting seasons. In the preceding subsistence section of this chapter appears a partial ethnographic roster of the various food roots and berries of the Thompson, as well as a few stalks and sprouts and other lesser edibles. With the habitat biodata at hand, none of these plants can be identified as peculiar to that part of the Park Complex claimed by the Lower Thompson. The larger and more technical food plant catalog that concludes this present chapter identifies a substantial number of these plants as growing at mountain altitudes, yet provides no specific information in regard to the occurrence of these plants within the Park perimeters and the gathering of them there by Lower Division groups.

The Lower Thompson were skilled makers of cedar dugout canoes, many of which were traded to the Upper Thompson. Several types were fashioned, six of which are diagrammed by Teit (1900:255 Figure 237). Whether any of these varieties were in use in the mountains away from the Fraser River is not stated. This seems unlikely in view of the fact that bark canoes were also fabricated by these Lower people and, it is explicitly reported, were generally employed in crossing lakes and deep mountain streams. (Teit 1900:255)

Since much of the travel at higher elevations was surely by land, the back-packing of burdens must have been customary when within the Park region. On this point, Teit (1900:256) states in general terms that in olden times goods were carried on the back by means of tump-lines of cedar bark or woven mountain goat wool. "Meat, baskets filled with berries and roots, and the few necessaries of a travelling family, were transported in this manner." Dogs were never used by the Upper Thompson as pack animals, "probably because," Teit (1900:256) suggests, "the country was too rough and mountainous," a description that certainly applies to the terrain within the Park perimeters. If they were sometimes fitted with packs by the Lower Thompson, as Ray states, this presumably occurred, following Teit's explanation, in lower and more gentle areas.

As noted in an earlier paragraph, winter hunting and travel in the mountains was not avoided by the Lower Thompson. When the snow was deep, they made use of snowshoes of a variety with rounded frame which Teit (1900:256-257, 257 figure 242), perhaps following the Thompson themselves, terms the "owl sole." This shape with its turned-up front was thought to be "best adapted for travel on steep mountains," and the rather wide meshes with which they were provided "were considered favorable for travel in moist snow."

In considering the extent to which the Lower Thompson utilized the resources of the mountainous sector of their territory and so to some degree those inside the limits of the Park, it is instructive to examine published traditional trade data for the group. These data indicate resources possessed in quantities above their own requirements, needs that were to some degree unmet by their own exploitative activities, and items for which they acted as mere middlemen, passing them from one outside group to a different tribe.

Teit (1900:258-259) provides a listing of materials exchanged between the Lower Thompson and the Lytton band of the Upper Thompson, whose country lay immediately up the Fraser River from that of the Lower Division. Also a roster of items traded between the Lower Thompson and the Okanagan, surely the Northern Okanagan whose traditional territory adjoined that of the Lower Thompson on the east; small parties of these peoples came "at long intervals" to Lower Thompson country to trade. And a catalog of materials that passed between the Lower Thompson and "Coast tribes," without doubt preeminently the Halkomelem tribelets along the Fraser River immediately downstream from the Lower Thompson. These data are assembled in Table 3-1. In addition to those appearing in this trade-item roster, wild sunflower roots -- not native to the Lower Thompson area -- were obtained in exchange, though their source is not specified.

If this inventory of trade goods is examined in terms of probable mountain provenience, the following items, starred in Table 3-1, emerge:

  • To the Lower Thompson, bighorn sheep horn spoons from the Upper Thompson and no mountain items from the Halkomelem.
  • From the Lower Thompson, woven blankets of mountain goat hair to the Upper Thompson and dried meat, fat, skins, and hair of the mountain goat, elk fat, dried elk skins, wild lily roots, and lichen cakes to the Halkomelem.

In the context of the interests of this study the natural habitat data for the mountain goats, elk, and bighorn sheep mentioned in the preceding two items require brief examination.

(1) The mountain goat, Dalquest (1948:407) writes,

is an animal of the high mountains. Their habitat is the bare-rock cliffs and rock-strewn slopes of the Arctic-alpine and Hudsonian life-zones. Where extensive, open rocky areas occur they descend to the Canadian Life-zone. Even in winter they keep to the high cliffs where steep slopes and strong winds keep the snow from the plants on which they feed.

Their range in the early years in Washington State included "the entire Cascade range from Mt. Adams and Mt. Saint Helens north to the Canadian boundary." They extended "west to Mt. Baker, Mt. Higgins and Mt. Index and east to Lake Chelan. . . ." (Dalquest 1948:409)

(2) Elk were surely obtained in the mountains within the Park borders. For, according to Dalquest (1948:391, 393), elk were "found over most of the forested areas of Washington [They ascend] "to the open meadows of the Hudsonian Life-zone in the early summer and . . . [return] to the dense forests of the Transition and lower Canadian life-zones with the winter snows." This winter feeding area is in the 2,000± foot range (Smith 1985a) and so within mountainous terrain in the Fraser Canyon and Skagit Valley country.

(3) Bighorn sheep "inhabited most of the eastern Cascade Mountains, . . . [and] the cliffs of the Columbia River Valley in eastern Washington." They were also native to "the eastern or Columbian Plateau side of the river and therefore probably occupied the cliffs of Moses Coulee and the Grand Coulee. Their habitat seems thus to have included rocky areas from the Upper Sonoran to the Hudsonian life-zones." (Dalquest 1948:405)

As with the elk, it is evident that bighorn sheep were to be found at low elevations -- lower even than the elk -- as well as in the higher country. It is notable also that these native distributional data place these animals to the east of the crest of the Cascades, implying their absence on the western flank of these mountains. If so, they suggest their absence as a significant part of the aboriginal fauna of the Lower Thompson hunting territory, which, in the Fraser Canyon, lay in the heart of these mountains and in the Park region to the south was entirely on the western Cascades slopes.

Table 3-1. Items Traded by and to Lower Thompson.

ItemsNorthern OkanaganUpper Thompson Lower ThompsonHalkomelem

Dried salmon<--------------------
Dried salmon<--------------------
Dried dog [chum] salmon<--------------------
Dried kowi'a salmon-------------------->
Smoked salmon heads<--------------------
Salmon grease<--------------------
Sturgeon oil<--------------------
* Dried mt. goat meat-------------------->
* Mt. goat fat-------------------->
* Mt. goat skins-------------------->
* Mt. goat hair-------------------->
* Woven mt. goat hair blankets<--------------------
* Elk fat-------------------->
* Dried elk skins-------------------->
Deer fat-------------------->
Dried deer skins-------------------->
Dressed deer skins (buckskins)-------------------->
Dressed deer skins (buckskins)-------------------->
Black-tailed deer skins<--------------------
Dressed bison skins-------------------->
* Wild lily roots-------------------->
skamete roots-------------------->
Lomatium roots-------------------->
Lomatium roots-------------------->
Bitterroot roots-------------------->
Bitterroot roots-------------------->
Dried serviceberries-------------------->
Dried huckleberries<--------------------        -------------------->
Dried soapberries-------------------->
Dried berries of some kinds-------------------->
Wild currants-------------------->
* "Moss" cakes-------------------->
Hazel nuts<--------------------
* Bighorn sheep horn spoons-------------------->
Bison skin bags-------------------->
Bark twine-------------------->
Bark for thread and string-------------------->
Cedar bark<--------------------
Bark twine bags-------------------->
Cedar-root baskets-------------------->
Rush mats of one kind<--------------------
nxo'itlaxin grass<--------------------
Wood for bows<--------------------
Canoes<--------------------        <--------------------
Wood for pipe stems<--------------------
Red ocher-------------------->
vegetable paints (white and red)<--------------------
Dentalia-------------------->        -------------------->
Abalone shells<--------------------

*Mountain-derived items.

These trade data fail to approximate amounts of each item exchanged or even to hint in other ways at the importance of the individual materials as trade products. But at least in terms of the raw numbers of mountain derived items -- those starred in Table 3-1 -- as against those derived wholly or in large part from lower elevations, they seem relatively unimportant. But it is certainly true that appreciably more of them moved from the Lower Thompson to other groups than the reverse. Even here, however, they were limited, so far as our present information takes us, to mountain goat and elk products, "wild lily" roots, and lichen cakes. The sole possible high elevation item received by the Lower Thompson, according to Teit's record, was the bighorn sheep horn spoon, which must have been relatively insignificant as a cultural item in comparison to the mountain goat meat and other products traded out.

It is of incidental interest that all mountain-derived materials bartered out by the Lower Thompson went down the Fraser River. (Most Upper Thompson people, incidentally, disliked mountain-goat wool blankets because they made their skin itch [Teit 1900:260].) In any event, these items of high country provenience among the Lower Thompson demonstrate further their exploitation of high mountainous terrain.

The ethnographic data on Lower Thompson warfare confirms in a convincing way their use of the mountainous region of the Park south of the international border. The group was less warlike and less skilled in fighting than the Upper Thompson, as they themselves admitted and the people of the Upper Division asserted, and had "very few real trained warriors among them" (Teit 1900:269-270).

The Lower Thompson were generally "on good terms with all surrounding tribes [with whom they had frequent contact] and rarely sent out any war parties" against these nearby groups. Nevertheless, they occasionally engaged in hostilities with the Halkomelem tribelets on the Fraser farther downriver (Teit 1900:268-270). This fact raises the possibility that they met Chilliwack parties in the upper reaches of the Chilliwack drainage basin, where their territories adjoined or even overlapped (Figures 2-1 and 3-1), and contended with them there, just within the northwestern boundary of the Park. There appears, however, to be no mention of such affrays in the ethnographic literature.

The Lower Thompson were on very friendly terms with the [Northern] Okanagan, "and, when their hunting parties met members of . . . [this] tribe in the mountains, they invariably exchanged presents" (Teit 1900:271). But "when they fell in with hunting parties of Klickitat, . . . they always fought one another" (Teit 1900:271). As Teit's map of Thompson territory and their neighboring tribes reveals (Figure 3-1), his "Klikitat" in this instance were Upper Skagit, admittedly a curiously mistaken designation for these people. But this statement of Lower Thompson-Upper Skagit hostility is not inconsistent with a similar report of inimical Upper Skagit-Lower Thompson relations by Collins (1974a:115). Indirectly these data provide further evidence of the Upper Thompson -- and Upper Skagit -- utilization of the valleys and high mountains of the Park, for this is where hunter groups of the two tribes would have met according to both Teit's tribal map and Collins' Upper Skagit territorial information.

According to Teit (1900:269), the Lower Thompson captured slaves from lower Fraser River groups. Nothing is said, however, about their taking them from peoples encountered in the Cascades to the south. On the other hand, they are reported by the Upper Skagit to have taken as slaves a few people of their tribe (Collins 1974a:118).

We know little about the sociocultural dimensions of the Lower Thompson in their high mountain regions or, for that matter, for the Thompson as a whole at higher altitudes. However, the territory claimed traditionally by the Lower and Upper Thompson together was considered to be open to hunting parties of the entire tribe. As Teit (1900:293) remarks:

Land was looked upon as neither individual nor family property, since every one had a right to all parts of the common country for any purpose. There were no particular hunting-grounds peculiar to, or the sole property of, certain families or bands. Of course each band had their usual hunting places, naturally those parts of the country nearest to their respective homes; but Indians from other villages, or other [bands or] divisions of the tribe, frequently hunted in each other's hunting-grounds without being considered intruders; and sometimes hunting-parties representing two or three tribal divisions [bands] would hunt over the summer hunting-grounds of another [band or] division without rousing any feelings of resentment.

There were, however, two exceptions to the holding of mountainous tribal land in common.

(a) The Lower Thompson were not permitted to build deer fences in the mountains of the Upper Thompson, just as men of one band of the latter were not allowed to do so in the high country of another Upper band or in that of the Lower Thompson. In fact, a deer fence was "looked upon as the property of the individual who . . . maintained the fence. The erection of another fence in the same pass, in proximity to the first, would materially affect the chances of capturing deer by it" (Teit 1900:293-294).

(b) Golden eagle eyries were regarded as the property of individuals or families (Teit 1900:294).

On the other hand, while available to all Thompson hunters with the two preceding exceptions, the Park region was plainly utilized primarily by Lower Thompson hunting groups, otherwise Teit's informants would not have defined the area as Lower Thompson country (Figure 3-1). It was, after all, appreciably nearer the winter villages and summer fisheries of the Lower Division than those of the Upper people. Further, the latter had large areas of mountainous territory available to them without journeying so far afield and perhaps they were more at home in their drier bioenvironment east of the Cascade crest than in the less familiar country of the higher slopes and crags west of the Cascade watershed.

The territory of the Thompson was vigorously protected from trespass by non-Thompson, unless these latter had kinsmen among the Thompson. Indeed, as Teit (1900:293) phrases the matter, if a person "not related to a Thompson Indian were caught hunting, trapping, or gathering bark or roots, within the recognized limits of the tribal territory, he was liable to forfeit his life." This explains the Thompson hostilities against the Skagit in the upper Skagit Valley and nearby mountains within the boundaries of the North Cascades National Park to which both Teit and Collins attest: the Thompson, claiming this territory (Figure 3-1), obviously saw the Skagit encountered within the area as unrelated intruders.

Hunting, trapping, and snaring, as well as fishing, were among a man's important duties (Teit 1900:295). The Thompson, according to Teit (1900:295), perhaps including the Lower Thompson in spite of the great economic importance of their splendid Fraser River salmon fisheries, regarded "hunting [as] the most honor able occupation." The importance to the Thompson as a whole of deer fences and eagle eyries, both predominantly of the high country, is underscored by the rather formal rules that governed their inheritance. Like fishing stations on the Fraser, both fences and eyries:

were inherited by all the male children, the eldest having the right of dividing, and taking his choice. If he was a hunter, he generally took the deer-fence, leaving the fishing station to . . . [others]. Sometimes these places were used by all the sons in common, until some of them died, the survivor claiming all, and his sons inheriting from him. If a man died without sons, the nearest male relatives took his hunting places. (Teit 1900:294)

Game taken by Lower Thompson hunting parties, which generally worked the higher terrain, was distributed by the hunting chief in a formal manner: this in itself suggests the more than casual importance of animals as food. The meat, fat, and skins were divided equally among the group, except that the best hunters were allotted a skin or two and a little more fat than the others. A man, hunting alone, who killed several animals invited friends to return to the kill site to help in the butchering and skinning process; he then divided all among the group. "Skins and meat of animals which a man trapped belonged entirely to himself." (Teit 1900:295)

As with the hunting grounds, the root digging and berry gathering areas, mostly up in the mountains as already observed, were likewise common property of all Thompson (Teit 1900:294). Women, of course, dug and cured or cooked the roots and collected and cured the berries (Teit 1900:296).

Little is reported concerning the more social aspects of traditional Lower Thompson life associated with root and berry gathering in the mountains. However, that certain rituals were carried out by the Thompson while engaged in such activities at high altitudes is attested by the following:

When a mother went up the high mountains to dig roots, etc., taking her baby there for the first time, the first evening after reaching her digging-ground she would break a branch from a tree, and hang her child in its carrier on the broken limb. She painted her whole face, and sometimes the top of her head, red, and danced there before the infant, sometimes all night. She put her hands close together, as if holding something, blew in them, and ran off some distance; then, opening them, she made the motion of throwing away something. This was symbolic of taking disease or evil from the infant, and throwing it far away. She prayed constantly to the spirits of the place, or to the mountains themselves, asking that her child might never be sick, and that, if it were ever bewitched, and no shaman were near to help, nevertheless it might not die, or that she herself might have power to defeat the evil. She also addressed the spirits of the mountains on her own behalf, kneeling down, spitting on her hands, and rubbing her body upward over the front to the face, then over the top of the head backward, meanwhile praying that she might be delivered from all disease or trouble, that she might never be hurt in body, or be bewitched, and that, if sick, she might get well soon. (Teit 1900:309)

At puberty, a Thompson girl "was at once separated from all other people" to live in a conical hut of fir branches and bark and to perform in private the many ritual, largely symbolic acts summarized in an earlier section of this Lower Thompson chapter. Of particular interest in this immediate context is the fact that sometimes "parents, when one of their daughters reached this age, would move into the wilder parts of the mountains to give her a better opportunity to perform the required ceremonies" (Teit 1900:311-312). In the late 1800s the period of isolation lasted four months, but long ago, according to Teit's (1900:317) informants, it extended over a year. One reference to a specific ritual use of high elevations by the new menstruant is given us in Teit's detailed description of the girl's various puberty activities:

[Some] of the first menstrual fluid was preserved by the girl, and tied up in a rag. It was afterward taken to the top of some lofty ridge, deposited in the windiest spot which was devoid of vegetation, and there burned by the girl, who prayed that she might never be troubled with prolonged periods of menstruation. (Teit 1900:316)

The ritual procedures followed by Thompson boys during their puberty years varied according to their aspirations in life. Those, for example, desiring to become great hunters practiced "hunting and shooting in a ceremonial way" (Teit 1900:317). If, on the other hand, a lad "wanted to develop into an extraordinary man, the ceremonial isolation and practice were extended over years, which he spent alone with his guardian spirit in the mountains, fasting, sweating, and praying, until he gained the desired knowledge" (Teit 1900:318). While most of the ritual acts carried out by adolescent boys are not described as having required a high altitude environment,

[on] the night of the first day they had to repair to a mountain-top and light a fire, and dance and sing there all night. The next three nights they repaired to the same mountain-top, or some other near by, where they spent the night dancing, singing, and praying to the Dawn of the Day, also firing arrows at targets in the early morning. They lighted the fire and prayed, that they might live long and always be healthy. The fire was also intended, it is said, as a signal to all the world that they had attained puberty. They then left their homes at intervals, and went to the lonely parts of the mountains, where they remained from two to ten days at a time. If the weather were good, they generally staid away a month or two at a time, living on what game they shot. The first time they returned to the mountains, they had to stay four days and nights, during which they were supposed to fast. Some staid eight days. (Teit 1900:318)


On repairing to the mountains, they took along a water-basket and a fire-drill, also a mat. There they fasted sometimes for many days. They also purged themselves with medicine, made themselves vomit by running a thin pliable stick, or four small sticks tied together, down their throats, and purified themselves by means of the sweat-bath and by washing in cold water. This last, however, was not done until the second sojourn in the mountains, or about ten or more days after the beginning of the ceremonies. (Teit 1900:318-319)


When repairing to certain peaks and lonely places in the mountains, some youths set up a stone, danced and sang around it, and finally fired an arrow at it. If the stone moved or cried out, it was a sign that their efforts to become great hunters had been crowned with success. (Teit 1900:320)

The mountain environment within which boys searched for their guardian spirits was sometimes painted by boys, during their puberty ceremonials, on the aprons which they wore. Boas (in Teit 1900:380) describes and figures one such apron. The patterns represented include a depiction of "four mountains resting on an earth-line, with a lake between two of them. These are the mountains over which he travels. At the bottom are the principal mountains where he resides while trying to obtain a guardian spirit. The spikes . . . [up the sides and over the top of the mountains] represent trees; and the long lines inside, gulches."

From these few data it is evident that many of the boy's puberty activities not noted above but summarized in an earlier part of this chapter were carried out either by choice or by custom in a mountain environment.

The Thompson Indians believed:

. . . in the existence of a great many mysterious beings. The 'land mysteries' are the spirits of mountain-peaks. In the lakes and at cascades live 'water mysteries.' Some of these appear in the form of men or women, grisly bears, fish of peculiar shape, etc., emerging from the water. Any person who may happen to see these apparitions will die shortly afterward. (Teit 1900:338)

Teit mentions such unusual beings in certain high mountain lakes and creeks in Upper Thompson country; people passing in their vicinity avoided looking at these localities lest they see these apparitions and die. He likewise identifies specific Upper Thompson mountainous areas with their resident mysteries, the viewing of which was an evil omen (Teit 1900:338-339). Presumably the Lower Thompson likewise recognized certain high country lakes and mountain masses with similar in-dwelling monstrous beings, but no examples of such are provided.

The Lower Thompson also believed:

. . . in different kinds of [seemingly non-resident] monsters to be met with occasionally in the mountains; as, for instance, a human body of white color, without any limbs, which constantly rolls over the ground, uttering cries like an infant. A person who sees any of these monsters will die shortly afterward. . . . On some cliffs, pictures in brilliant colors are seen, which vanish as suddenly as they appear. (Teit 1900:339)

Monsters of this kind, according to Teit (1900:339), appear to have been unknown to the Upper Thompson. This point is of some importance since it calls attention to the cautions that should be exercised in assuming that data assigned by Teit to the Upper Thompson -- as opposed to the Thompson in general -- necessarily apply to the Lower Thompson as well.

The Lower Thompson, like the Upper people, gave credence to a race of human-like folk, inhabiting steep cliffs and forests, some of whom were dwarfs and others very tall. Informants described them thus:

[They] can make themselves visible or invisible at will . . . the dwarf women do not exceed three feet in height. A few of the men, however, are tall, surpassing the tallest Indians in stature; but none of them are of medium height. They all wear clothes similar to those formerly worn by the Indians, but have never been seen with bows and arrows. They inhabit low, dense forests, or live in dense woods in the mountains. It is said that they never kill, steal, or chase people. Some people believe they are cedar-trees, or their spirits, and that they have the power of transforming themselves. They are rather fond of joking, and playing tricks on people. (Teit 1900:339-340)

Two specific examples of encounters with these supernatural beings are reported by Teit (1900:340). In one instance a man, after pushing his wedge into the canoe he was fashioning, fell asleep, was awakened by a dwarf with the wedge in his body, and was told by this being before it vanished that he (the man) should henceforth paint his face red when shaping a canoe to make the labor easier. In the second case, a woman slept overnight in the forest and woke at dawn with a piece of burnt cedar wood in her body, placed there by a dwarf while she slept.

In addition, naked, gaunt, human-sized beings, with visible bones and very large, protruding eyes, were reported to have chased Thompson people until they fainted (Teit 1900:340). Presumably these occurred in the Lower as well as the Upper Thompson area.

Giants, some 30 feet tall, did not inhabit their country, according to the Lower Thompson, as they did that of the Upper Thompson. Nonetheless, they occasionally entered it from the territory of the Upper Thompson or Okanagan.

[These beings] dress in bear or dog skins. Some wear long black robes, while others again go almost naked. Sometimes they chase or steal people. They are not known to have any weapons. Once a giant is said to have chased two hunters, who sought refuge in a large fir-tree. Presently this giant was joined by two very tall friends, who tried in vain to reach the hunters. The latter shot at the giants, who caught the arrows in their hands and broke them. After a while one of the giants discovered that he had lost his dog-skin apron, and seemed very much concerned about it. They all concluded to go in search of it, and left the hunters, who then came down from the tree, and went home. (Teit 1900:340-341)

As made clear in the preceding general survey of the Lower Thompson traditional lifeways, individual guardian spirits were the principal supernatural figures of the tribe. In a sense, however, the tops of mountains and certain lakes might be considered tribal deities. Speaking of the Thompson as a whole, Teit (1900:344) explains:

Certain parts of the high mountains, especially peaks or hills, were considered sacred, being the residence of 'land mysteries' . . . . Some of these places, when trodden upon by human foot, were always visited by snow or rain. In other places, snow or rain fell only when they were trodden upon or visited by a stranger for the first time. Indians, therefore, when hunting in the vicinity of these places, visited them, and appeased the spirits by making an offering to them, thus insuring good weather during their stay, and good luck while hunting. These offerings generally consisted of a lock of hair, a rag from the clothing, a little [gun]powder, a few shot, a piece of tobacco, a stone, and so on.

The women, when picking berries or digging roots on certain mountains, always painted their faces red. In general, they paint their faces wholly red before coming in sight of certain lakes, that they may be favored with good weather and good fishing. The paint is considered as an offering to the spirits. Sometimes, when they came in sight of these lakes, they made the sign of good will or blessing . . , and prayed to them to give them good weather and plenty of fish. They also did this to some of the mountain-peaks near their hunting grounds.

Whether any bodies of water such as mentioned in the following description existed in Lower Thompson country is not specified in the ethnographic literature. But inasmuch as women from this group are known to have dug roots at higher elevations, this is quite possible. Teit (1900 :345) writes:

Roots, etc., growing near a haunted or mysterious lake, should not be dug or gathered. Vegetation near such a lake is called its 'blanket.' Swamp-grass and reeds growing in the water of the lake are called its 'hair.' The lake, if robbed of its blanket, will take revenge by visiting sickness, bad luck, or death upon the root-gatherer, or by sending an apparition or death-warning to the person, shortly after which the offender herself, or one of her near relatives, will die.

Some of the first berries of the season were given by the Thompson "to the earth, or more generally to the mountains." This offering was made by an old, gray-haired person, who, dancing, "held the fruit out toward the mountain-tops. . . . The people painted their faces red, and danced for some little time." (Teit 1900:345) Again, this is supposed to describe a custom that prevailed among both Thompson groups.

A great many specific practices with magical or supernatural overtones were mandated among the Thompson in connection with the subsistence quest, and others were proscribed. Three examples relating to hunting, importantly a high terrain pursuit, will illustrate those that were prescribed:

  • "If a deer-hunting party had bad luck, they staid in camp for a day or two, sweat-bathing, singing, and praying to their guardian spirits to give them success, and also asking the deer to present themselves to be shot at" (Teit 1900:346).
  • "Deer's bones were always burned by the hunters while on hunting-trips, as a safeguard against the spell resulting from any woman who happened to come in contact with the fresh bones, or from any dog which might take a bone in its mouth" (Teit 1900:346-347).
  • In bear-hunting, a man preceded his hunt by sweat bathing, during which he prayed to his guardian spirits and begged the bear to allow itself to be taken without danger. The bear skull was tied to a small treetop, as high up as could be reached, and left there. (Teit 1900:347)

Two examples, also associated with hunting, are sufficient to illustrate subsistence-related tabus:

  • A deer's head was never given by a hunter to a man who was the first or second born of a family, nor did a hunter ever eat with such a person. To do otherwise would result in the deer becoming very wild and difficult to shoot. (Teit 1900:347)
  • Deer meat was never taken into a [temporary or open-season] lodge through the normal entrance, since this door was used by women. In a hunting lodge it was carried in through a hole in the back of the structure. (Teit 1900:347)

Surely these very numerous customs, bolstered by magical or supernatural sanctions, were observed when hunting in the mountains no less than when pursuing game at lower elevations. Assuming their practice in the mountains, some -- like placing bear skulls in trees -- might have left their mark, at least for a time, in the high country. Others testify to cultural traits -- like hunting sweat lodges and hunting lodges -- which might, with great good fortune, be preserved in the archaeological record. And still others -- like the burning of the deer bones -- would explain why in mountain hunting sites few osteological remains of deer hunting should be expected.

But none of these ritual or ceremonial practices are explicitly reported by Teit as having been observed in the high terrain, and so none, save for the preceding examples, are noted in this section. These behavioral mandates, both positive and negative, are summarized, however, in the earlier general section devoted to the Lower Thompson.

Among the many animals that might be acquired by the Thompson as guardian spirits were hoary marmots that became tutelaries of some hunters, and mountain goats which (as well as common marmots) were obtained by some "gamblers, runners, etc.," and which were secured by some women. The mountain goats, at least so far as they were associated with "gamblers, runners, etc.," were, Teit (1900:355) observes, principally Lower Thompson guardian spirits.

Charms of many sorts were used by the Thompson in various ways, as noted in the preceding general culture description. One, consisting of the body or skin of a mouse worn by hunters, is of particular interest because the mouse was "found on the higher mountains" (Teit 1900:371). Failing to overtake a wounded deer, the hunters placed this charm on its tracks, causing it to travel only a short distance before dying.

Among the many beliefs recorded by Teit were those that regarded human activities, intentional or otherwise, as affecting the external world by a kind of magical potency. Two are reported that testify to the Thompson use of the high country: the intrusion of Indians "on the haunts of spirits in the mountains" caused weather changes; the burning of ptarmigan feathers or the hair of the mountain goat or bighorn sheep resulted in sudden cold weather or a snowstorm (Teit 1900:374), a statement that provides further, though oblique, evidence of high terrain hunting.

As noted above, winter hunting camps were sometimes established in the mountains and so presumably from time to time within the Park boundaries. Surely summer camps also, though I have found as yet little hard data in support of this assumption beyond a Skagit statement reporting meeting Thompson hunting parties in the present Ross Lake region in the warm season. How these mountain camps were arranged and socially organized, if differently from villages and camps at lower elevations and along the Fraser River, we do not know. But Thompson hunting parties were led by their most efficient member, at the request of the group and subject to its approval (Teit 1900:289). This is to say, obviously, by the man most skilled in hunting the particular animal in the region being hunted over and most competent in directing the collective activities of the party.

Mountain Food Plants of the Thompson

The ethnographic data identifying many of the native plants and plant parts that found their way into the diet of the Thompson and describing the ways in which they were secured and prepared have been summarized from several sources with a few supplementary notes from Turner's (1978) ethnobotanical publication (see Subsistence section). Here the ethnobotanical information regarding Thompson food flora -- and a few tea plants and masticatories for good measure -- is examined in greater detail, with a particular focus upon the elevational distribution of these floras. The central question is this: which of these Thompson subsistence plants grow in lower, middle, and high mountain environments and hence are plants that the Lower Thompson may reasonably be assumed to have exploited in their aboriginal territory within the North Cascades Park perimeters?

To my knowledge there are three compilations of the food floras utilized by the Thompson: viz., one by Teit (1930b:238-239) in his Okanagan ethnographic study where he lists the Thompson plant names beside those of the Okanagan, botanically identified; one by Steedman (1930) based on Teit's extensive field records of the 1890s; and one by Turner (1978). Turner's data are in several respects the most useful for present purposes. They report largely her own field findings among the Thompson in the 1970s, present a thoroughly competent and contemporary botanical identification of the plants, and are placed within the domain of earlier and on-going ethnobotanical studies, including her own, on the Northwest Coast and in the British Columbia Plateau. They demonstrate a familiarity with Teit's pioneering information and make use of it as appropriate. In this published semipopular inventory, however, her Thompson data are not compiled in catalog form for the Thompson alone, as in the case of the Teit and Steedman reports, but are buried in her description of the botanical characteristics, habitat, geographical distribution, and traditional (and present-day) uses of each plant by the interior British Columbia Indians as a group: the Thompson information must be teased out of this context, plant by plant. Further, collected some half century after Teit's field research, there must have been some slippage in the information available relating to traditional Thompson plant knowledge and subsistence usage: e.g., memory loss of plants once used, especially those marginally collected in early times; of peripheral uses for plants whose principal dietary contributions were the only ones remembered; and of the fact that certain of their present and recollected food plants were added to the roster of Thompson food sources in postcontact times as borrowings from nearby tribes or even from Whites or Oriental neighbors. Nevertheless, these Turner data are the best available for present objectives, in part because of their habitat and geographical distribution notes, and this is the information presented below.

In brief, the purposes of this flora listing are threefold: to provide a more complete and botanically precise roster of Thompson food plants and their native uses, prepared by a competent, experienced ethnobotanist, than the somewhat general observations in the preceding subsistence section; to specify those plants in the catalog that grow in low, mid, and high elevations of traditional Thompson territory, thus furthering the general Indian-land adaptation interests of this study; and more particularly, as already stated, to suggest the floral subsistence resources presumably available to the Lower Thompson within the borders of their country inside the Park.

The plants catalogued below are individually identified either with the Thompson ("T") as a whole -- perhaps more especially with the Upper Division although this point is generally left uncommented upon -- or with the Lower Thompson ("LT") or with both explicitly. In a few instances this Thompson identification is assumed rather than specifically stated by Turner: i.e., when plants are reported to have been eaten by "all of the Indian groups of the central and southern [British Columbia] Interior," "virtually every Indian group in British Columbia," "all Interior Salish groups," or something similar. No attempt has been made to incorporate into these Turner data the information from the ethnographic sources summarized previously, lest her material be contaminated by less carefully collected and analyzed data or by botanically misidentified or archaically identified plants. Furthermore, any such conflation would be unwise, since it would require assembling from the scattered root, berry, stalk-stem, seed, and other separate ethnographic sections all use information appearing to relate to a single plant, when, in fact, there may be no assurance that they all belong to the same taxon, and then often taking a best-guess approach to the taxon in question, the botanical binomial either not being given in the ethnographic record or being an outmoded designation.

It has not been possible to check Turner's plant habitat and distribution statements or to make them more refined for the British Columbia Thompson country specifically, as through the use of the botanical-ecological information in the Hitchcock and Cronquist (1981) Northwest flora compendium or in the Krajina (1969) biogeoclimatological study. Nor has it been possible to locate and extract comparable plant habitat material from such floral studies of the western Cascades slopes in the general Park region as may exist. Owing to the incompleteness of this environmental ../background and its lack of focus on the specific Park sector as well as for other reasons, the following plant data must be viewed as a preliminary summary.

Considering these habitat deficiencies, it is fortunate that in the general Park area the same biogeoclimatic zones extend north and south of the border, the differences within this Thompson mountain terrain not being latitudinal but primarily those of elevation, slope direction, precipitation, and the like (Smith 1985a). Accordingly, Turner's plant habitat information for British Columbia north of the Park appear to be satisfactorily applicable to the Skagit sector of the Park exploited in protohistoric and early postcontact times by the Thompson. Unhappily, habitat data are not furnished by Turner for every plant for which she documents Thompson food use. In a few such cases, mostly where the plants are reported to have been gathered by the Lower Thompson, the essential ecological information has been extracted from the Hitchcock and Cronquist volume. The remaining plants of unspecified habitat are assumed for the purposes of this present analysis to have been non-montane floras, doubtless an assumption that further research would prove inaccurate for some.

This is not the place to discuss in detail the biogeoclimatic zones of the Lower Thompson country. This situation is very complex, as might be expected from its location astride the Cascades, having not only great elevational, temperature, and precipitation differences but also both coastally pointed flora on the west side and interior linked plants on the east. As I plot these zones from Krajina's (1968) very detailed data, they were the (1) Coastal Western Hemlock Zone in the Skagit Valley and its northern extension into Canada and along the Fraser Valley; (2) the Interior Douglas-fir Zone in the Fraser and Coquihalla Valleys; (3) the Mountain Hemlock Zone in the higher country flanking Zone (1); (4) the Engelmann-Spruce Subalpine Fir Zone in the high Cascades, and (5) the Alpine Tundra Zone in the loftiest mountains (Smith 1985a). The Chilliwack Valley assigned to the Lower Thompson by Teit as hunting-gathering territory is excluded from consideration as actually Chilliwack tribal country as already noted.

The lower and upper elevational limits of these several zones vary considerably in the Thompson country between the leeward and windward faces of the mountains and according to other factors, including very local ones. But roughly the boundaries of the five zones enumerated above are these: Coastal Western Hemlock: 0-3,250 feet; Interior Douglas-fir: 2,000 (locally somewhat less)-4,000 feet; Mountain Hemlock: 3,300-5,500 feet; Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine fir: 4,000-7,000 feet; and Alpine-Tundra: 5,500 feet to the highest peaks. The Interior Douglas-fir band is considered by Turner (1978:17) to lie at "moderate elevations."

The lowest elevation of the aboriginal Thompson hunting-gathering country inside the Park boundaries is a little below 1,600 feet, in the bottom of the Skagit Valley now inundated by Ross Lake. This strip along the river lay, according to Krajina's plotting, in the Coastal Hemlock Zone, as already noted. The higher mountain slopes on both sides of the river are in the Mountain Hemlock Zone. The very high peaks and their immediate vicinity, both to the east and west of the middle Skagit Valley and the Park, rise to over 8,000 feet and lie in the Alpine-Tundra Zone. Apparently neither the Interior Douglas-fir nor the Engelmann-Spruce-Subalpine Zones occurs to any important degree in the general Park region south of the international border.

Turner's plant habitat information is, however, not keyed to these technical zones but rather largely to rough and general elevation bands. Using her almost entirely descriptive material, it seems reasonable and informative to divide into three elevational categories the Thompson subsistence floras she identifies:

(a) Plants for which she gives no habitat data whatever and those said to grow at the lowest elevations with nothing to indicate higher altitude growth. These latter include the plants that she describes as existing on dry hillsides and open plains, in valleys and foothills, on sagebrush deserts, near sea level, and so on. Of the 108 Thompson subsistence taxa mentioned by Turner, 59 plants belong in this group. In the following plant list no habitat data are entered for the individual taxa in this category, even where such are provided by Turner: these floras, if Turner's information is followed, are of no immediate interest in this mountain-use section. To designate these plants, they are unmarked with stars.

(b) Plants growing as high as the lower and middle altitude mountains and their valleys -- possibly at still more elevated levels but Turner provides nothing to demonstrate this point. These comprise the plants that Turner (and Hitchcock and Cronquist where called upon for supplementary information) describes as found "in the mountains," "in montane elevations," "in mountain meadows," "in lower mountains," " on lower mountain slopes," "at moderate elevations," "at mid-montane altitudes," "in mid-elevations," "up to 2,500 feet," and the like. Of the 48 definite mountain-environment plants (this category [b] and the following category Ic]), 28 fall into this lower and mid-montane group. These floras are marked with a single star in the roster that follows.

(c) Plants specifically stated by Turner (in a few instances by Hitchcock and Cronquist) as occurring in the high mountains, some also, of course, at lower elevations as well. This cluster consists of those floras stated to grow "in high elevations" or "in high mountains," "at upper elevations in the mountains," "well up in the mountains," "in the mountains and high valleys," "in high mountain valleys," "on mountain ridges above lower mountains," "in subalpine" or "alpine country," "near timberline," "toward tree-line in the mountains," "above tree-line," and so on. In this high altitude group fall 21 of the 48 mountain flora. This signifies that half of the mountain subsistence plants were available high up on the mountain faces. These floras are indicated with double stars in the listing that follows.

In the case of the montane plants of categories (b) and (c), such germane habitat facts as are reported are entered with each plant.

In summary, the significance in the present context of the plant listing that follows is indicated by these symbols: T: Thompson, tribal division unspecified; LT: Lower Thompson specified: *: plant occurs in lower and mid-elevation mountains but not higher; **: plant occurs in high elevations, in many cases lower also.

1. LT Acer macrophyllum, broad-leafed maple.

Young shoots peeled and eaten raw. Sprouted seeds boiled and eaten. (Turner 1978:208)

2. *T Alectoria fremontii, black tree lichen, black tree moss.

Cleaned of twigs, soaked in fresh water to remove bitter substance, steamed overnight in grass-lined pit, cut into cakes. Eaten immediately or dried and stored for future use. Dried "moss" cakes had to be soaked to make them soft before eating. Stored properly, cakes lasted three or more years. To add flavor, often cooked interspersed with layers of onions or mixed with serviceberries. Dried "moss" dipped in broth or soup and eaten like a cracker. Often boiled in a soup. Boiled with dried Indian carrots, yellow avalanche lily corms, tiger lily bulbs, serviceberries, or dried deer meat. In an emergency eaten raw. Especially in montane forests. (Turner 1978:35-39)

3. LT Allium acuminatum, Hooker's onion.

Bulbs eaten. (Turner 1978:71,72)

4. T / LT Allium cernuum, nodding onion.

Bulbs sometimes eaten raw, "leaves and all." Usually steam-cooked in pit oven, at times interspersed with layers of shrubby penstemon and red alder leaves, and occasionally covered with scrapings of alder bark to give them reddish color. (Turner 1978:71)

5. T Allium geyeri, Geyer's onion.

Bulb "undoubtedly" eaten, since it grows in Botanie Valley. (Turner 1978:71)

6. T Amelanchier alnifolia, serviceberry, Saskatoon berry, June berry, shad-bush.

Most popular and widely used berry. At least four varieties recognized. Dried on mats like raisins. Or mashed, boiled in baskets with hot rocks, and spread on grass, mats, or rocks to dry in cakes. Or placed on racks over a fire or sun dried. Often juice collected and added little-by-little to drying berry cakes, or saved to use in other cooking. Dried cakes broken up and eaten as snack. Or soaked and boiled with bitterroot or salmon eggs, cooked with tiger lily bulbs, deer meat, or bear grease, mashed with other berries (e.g., red-osier dogwood berries), or rehydrated and eaten as dessert. Berries cooked in soups and stews or used to sweeten other dishes. Dried berries were a common trade item, especially between interior and coast. (Turner 1978:181-182)

7. **T Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, kinnikinnick, bearberry.

Berries eaten raw or "fried"(?) with salmon oil or bear fat or boiled in soups or with deer meat or salmon. They were too dry to be eaten alone. Young leaves boiled or merely immersed in boiling water to make a tea, drunk as beverage or as tonic or diuretic. Sea level to high elevation. (Turner 1978:143-144)

8. LT Armillaria ponderosa (?), pine mushroom.

Eaten in Fraser Canyon area. (Turner 1978:42)

9. *T Balsamorhiza sagittata, balsamroot, spring sunflower, wild sunflower.

White succulent shoots dug before plants appeared above ground and eaten raw; a good famine food. Large taproots beaten to loosen tough outer skin and peeled; white inner part steam-cooked overnight; cooked, they had a sweetish taste. Eaten immediately or threaded on a string or stick and dried. Flower stems broken off, peeled, and eaten raw, steamed, or boiled for their pleasant nutty taste. After flowers gone to seed, the small black fruits were sun-dried or roasted; then eaten whole or generally pounded into a flour. Properly dried seeds, well sealed, lasted for years. From lowlands to moderate elevations in the mountains. (Turner 1978:116-119)

10. T / LT Berberis aquifolium, Oregon grape, barberry, mahonia.

Berries, though tart, gathered when fully ripe and eaten fresh. (Turner 1978:124-125)

11. LT Berberis nervosa.

Berries eaten fresh. (Turner 1978:124-125)

12. T Brodiaea douglasii, fool's onion.

Corms eaten. (Turner 1978:73)

13. *T / *LT Brodiaea hyacinthina, fool's onion, cluster lily.

Corms eaten raw or boiled and dried. Open flats to midmontane meadows. (Turner 1978 :73)

14. T Calochortus macrocarpus, mariposa lily, sago lily, desert lily.

Corms ("sweet onions," "wild potatoes") eaten raw or threaded and dried with or without being steam-cooked first. Flower buds eaten raw, being sweet from nectar at base of petals. (Turner 1978:75)

15. T Camassia quamash, blue camas.

Bulbs eaten, perhaps only in dried form as a trade item. (Turner 1978:77)

16. LT Cantharellus cibarius, chanterelle.

Mushroom, eaten fresh or dried. (Turner 1978:42)

17. T Chimaphila umbellata, pipsissewa, prince's pine.

Leaves, stem, and roots boiled to make tea. (Turner 1978:211)

18. *T Cirsium edule, wild thistle, Indian thistle.

19. *T C. hookerianum, Hooker's thistle.

20. T C. undulatum, wavy-leafed or woolly thistle.

Roots of all three species eaten. Peeled, cut up, steam-cooked in pits or boiled in stews. C. edule: chiefly in the mountains; C. hookerianum in montane areas; C. undulatum in foothills and plains. (Turner 1978:121)

21. **T Claytonia lanceolata, spring beauty, Indian potato.

Small, round corms eaten in large quantities, an important source of carbohydrates. Dug, washed, and steamed in underground pits or boiled with very little water. Resemble potatoes in taste, but sweeter. Sometimes cooked with other roots (e.g., yellowbell bulbs). Could be stored for later use, though whether smoked, dried on mats, or cooked, mashed, formed into cakes and dried is unclear for the Thompson specifically. Sagebrush foothills to alpine meadows; usually at higher elevations, especially mountain meadows. (Turner 1978:172-174)

22. T Coprinus comatus, shaggy mane.

Mushroom, cooked and eaten when young. (Turner 1978:44)

23. **T Cornus stolonifera, red osier dogwood, red willow.

Berries, though extremely bitter, eaten fresh, frequently pounded and mixed with sweeter fruit such as chokecherries or serviceberries. From valley bottoms to near timber-line. (Turner 1978:137-138)

24. T / LT Corylus cornuta, hazelnut, wild filbert.

Buried in ground for 10 days or more to allow prickly husk to rot away. Sometimes process hastened by adding water to hole before it was filled in, and by covering nuts with wet mud. With husks removed, nuts shelled and eaten. Often located already husked in squirrel caches. Lower Thompson traded them from Fraser Valley Halkomelem and from Upper Thompson, who gathered them in large quantities. Upper people also traded them to Shuswap. (Turner 1978:126-127)

25. T Crataegus columbiana, red hawthorn, red thornberry, red haw.

26. T C. douglasii, black hawthorn, black thornberry, black haw.

Fruit of both species were eaten, though not highly regarded because of their large seeds, lack of taste, and mealy texture. (Turner 1978:185)

27. T Disporum hookeri, Hooker's fairy bells.

Berries eaten raw. (Turner 1978:80)

28. T Epilobium angustifolium, fireweed, willow-herb, blooming sally.

Succulent pith at center of young stalks eaten raw. Stems also boiled or steamed, but this was less common. (Turner 1978:170-172)

29. **T Erythronium grandiflorum, yellow avalanche lily, yellow dog-tooth violet, snow lily, Indian sweet potato, Indian potato.

Starchy corms eaten in large quantities. Botanie Valley north of Lytton in Thompson territory was a prime locality for gathering these corms. Many families from different parts of the country collected there annually to harvest these and other wild plants.

For immediate use the corms were steam-cooked, roasted in hot ashes, or boiled for a short time. To preserve for winter, they were allowed to soften for a few days, peeled, then threaded on a string of twisted red cedar or Rocky Mountain maple bark and hung up to dry, until they were hard and brown. Circular strings of avalanche lily corms, usually of measured length from hand to elbow, were an important trading item. The corms could also be dried unstrung and stored in sacks. Before being eaten the dried corms were soaked until they had regained most of their moisture, then boiled or steam-cooked in underground pits until they were soft and chocolate-brown. (Turner 1978:82)

In mountains and high valleys. (Turner 1978:81-82)

30. T Fragaria vesca, wild strawberry, tall strawberry.

31. T F. virginiana, wild strawberry, blue-leaf strawberry.

A favorite fruit, especially of children. Usually eaten fresh. If large enough quantities were obtained, mashed and spread over grass or mats to sun-dry. Dried cakes eaten thus or rehydrated and eaten alone or used as sweetener. Flowers, leaves, and stems sometimes used to flavor roots in cooking pits. (Turner 1978:187)

32. **T Fritillaria lanceolata, chocolate lily, Indian rice.

Bulbs boiled in soups or steam-cooked. Not dried for storage, although they could be kept fresh for a short time in underground pits. Sea level to high mountain valleys. (Turner 1978:83)

33. T Fritillaria pudica, yellowbell, yellow snowdrop.

Bulbs eaten raw, boiled, or steam-cooked for a short time. Used only "sporadically"; not often stored. (Turner 1978:87)

34. *LT Gaultheria shallon, salal.

Berries mashed and dried in cakes. Lowlands to lower mountains. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:344, Turner 1978:208)

35. **T Geum triflorum, purple avens, old man's whiskers.

Roots boiled or steeped to make tea as beverage, appetizer, or medicine for colds and fever. Foothills to subalpine ridges. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:212, Turner 1978:215)

36. **T Heracleum lanatum, cow parsnip, Indian rhubarb, wild rhubarb.

Young stalks and leaf stems peeled and eaten raw, or occasionally boiled, steam-cooked, or roasted for short time. Sea level to above tree-line in the mountains. (Turner 1978:95)

37. **T Hieracium ssp., hawkweeds, mountain dandelions.

Leaves and coagulated latex of two or three species chewed. Stem was broken allowing milky latex to exude and harden. Collected into a little ball, it was chewed for pleasure. From lowlands to moderate or high elevations. (Steedman 1930:492, Turner 1978:122)

38. **T Hydrophyllum capitatum, waterleaf.

Long, fleshy roots always eaten cooked, either boiled or steamed. Frequently eaten with other types of roots, such as yellow avalanche lily. Plants common in Botanie Valley. Lowlands to well up in the mountains. (Turner 1978:168)

39. T Hygrophorus eburneus(?), ivory-capped Hygrophorus.

Mushroom, eaten freshly cooked or dried. (Turner 1978:39)

40. **T Juniperus communis, common juniper.

41. *T J. scopulorum, rocky mountain juniper.

Branches and berries of both species boiled to make a "tea" beverage, but mostly a medicine for colds and other ailments. J. communis grows from near sea level to subalpine or alpine areas; J. scopulorum, on dry plains and valleys and lower mountains. (Turner 1978:51-52)

42. *T Larix occidentalis, western larch, tamarack, western tamarack.

Sweet-tasting gum that exudes from tree and hardens in air was broken off and chewed for pleasure. In mountain valleys and on lower slopes. (Turner 1978:53)

43. *T Lewisia columbiana, bitterroot.

Eaten occasionally but less favored than L. rediviva. At higher elevations than L. rediviva, which grows in lower mountains. (Turner 1978:175,179)

44. **T Lewisia pygmaea, bitterroot.

Taproot eaten on occasion though not as well liked as L. rediviva. In mountains to above tree-line; high mountain slopes. (Turner 1978:175-179)

45. *T Lewisia rediviva, bitterroot, sand rose, desert rose, rock rose, spatium.

Most important of all edible roots to Upper Thompson; Lower Thompson also fond of it and used it whenever available. Roots peeled, very bitter red-orange structure near root top removed, then baked or boiled and eaten. Or dried for several days on a mat or strung on strings or sticks to allow them to be kept for a year. Traditionally stored in fiber bags, sometimes buried in earth pits lined with pine needles. To avoid stomach problems, dried roots had to be boiled or steamed in small earth pits; almost always mixed with other foods, especially serviceberries. Aboriginally a major item of commerce in southern interior British Columbia. Thompson obtained it from Okanagan and traded t on to the Lower Thompson and Lillooet. Sagebrush plains to lower mountains. (Turner 1978:174-179)

46. **T Lilium columbianum, tiger lily, Columbia lily, panther lily.

Large bulbs eaten; "very popular in the old days" in spite of their peppery, bitter, and strong taste. Often used as flavoring to enhance taste of other foods. Never eaten raw. Boiled, sometimes with two water changes, or steam- cooked for several hours. Cooked roots sometimes sun-dried, either whole or mashed in thin cakes, and stored for winter. Often boiled and eaten with other foods (e.g., deer meat, fish, fermented salmon roe, serviceberries). Sea level to subalpine elevations. (Turner 1978:87-90)

47. T Lithospermum incisum, long-flowered stoneseed, puccoon, gromwell.

Large deep taproots cooked and eaten. (Turner 1978:129)

48. T Lomatium ambiguum, Indian celery.

Flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds used for flavoring and tea as with L. nudicaule. (Turner 1978:109)

49. *T Lomatium dissectum, chocolate tips, wild celery, bitterroot.

Roots, especially from young plants, eaten. Sea level to moderate elevations in the mountains. (Turner 1978:102-103)

50. T Lomatium macrocarpum, wild carrot, Indian carrot, desert parsley, hog-fennel, biscuit-root.

Long taproots, strong-tasting and peppery, were eaten raw but generally roasted or boiled, often with other foods. Cooked with meat or tiger lily bulbs and fermented salmon roe. (Turner 1978:105, 106)

51. *T Lomatium nudicaule, Indian celery, wild celery.

Young sprouts, leaf-stalks, and leaves were a popular green vegetable, eaten raw or boiled. Young roots also eaten. Flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds used as flavoring for teas, soups, meat stews, and tobacco. As tea, plants fresh or dried were put into water and brought to a boil; considered good for colds and sore throats. Botanie Valley furnished good supplies of these plant parts. From valleys and foothills to moderate elevations in the mountains. (Turner 1978:108-109)

52. T Lomatium triternatum, Indian celery.

Flowers, leaves, stems, and seeds used for flavoring and tea as with L. nudicaule. (Turner 1978:109)

53. **T Lycopus uniflorus, bugleweed, water horehound.

Fleshy tubers were washed and steam-cooked in pits. Have a sweet, pleasant taste rather like a mild radish. Lowlands to upper elevations. (Turner 1978:168-170)

54. T Opuntia fragilis, prickly-pear cactus.

55. T O. polycantha.

Succulent stem segments collected, spines scorched off, segments roasted or pit-cooked and peeled, inner fleshy part eaten. "Flesh," mixed with berries, cooked into soup. Fruits also eaten mixed with berries. (Turner 1978:131)

56. LT Osmaronia cerasiformis, Indian plum.

Berries regarded as edible, but not much eaten lest lungs bleed. (Turner 1978:209)

57. *T Osmorhiza chilensis, sweet cicely, sweet root, dry land parsnip.

Thick aromatic roots either steam-cooked in underground pits or boiled with salmon roe or meat in stews. Had a delicate, sweet flavor. From sea level to moderate elevations in the mountains. (Turner 1978:109-111)

58. T (?) Phaeolepiota aurea, golden Phaeolepiota.

Mushroom probably eaten (as it certainly was among Okanagan and Lillooet) with cottonwood mushroom. Boiled or mixed with deer meat to make soup. Dried for winter use. (Turner 1978:46-47)

59 **T / **LT Pinus albicaulis, white-bark pine.

Large seeds roasted in hot ashes and often combined with serviceberries when eaten. Also parched and pounded with mortar and pestle into fine flour, which was mixed with water to form mush. Often traded by Lower Thompson to Upper Thompson in exchange for hazelnuts. "Subalpine to timber-line, on ridge-tops, and exposed rocky slopes"; "toward tree-line in mountains"; seeds gathered each year "from local mountain ridges." (Turner 1978:55-57)

60. **T Pinus contorta, lodgepole pine, shore pine, jack pine, black pine.

Sweet, succulent cambium eaten fresh. From sea level to subalpine elevations. (Turner 1978:58, 60)

61. *T Pinus ponderosa, ponderosa pine, yellow pine, red pine, bull pine.

Cambium eaten. Seeds eaten raw as confection. Up to 3,000 feet. (Turner 1978:60, 62)

62. LT Polypodium glycyrrhiza, licorice fern.

Rhizomes chewed, especially for colds and sore throats. (Turner 1978:207)

63. T Polyporus sulphureus, sulphur Polypore, cottonwood mushroom(?).

Usually boiled and fried. (Frying was not a traditional Thompson cooking method. How they were prepared following the boiling in early days, if they received further treatment, is not described.) (Turner 1978:47)

64. *LT Polystichum munitum, sword fern.

Rhizomes eaten. Near sea level to midmontane elevations. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:53, Turner 1978:207)

65. T Potentilla anserina, silverweed, cinquefoil, Indian sweet potato.

Long, fleshy roots steam-cooked or roasted and eaten. Also eaten raw. (Turner 1978:188-189)

66. T Potentilla glandulosa, cinquefoil.

Leaves or entire plant boiled to make tea, "said to have slight stimulant properties." (Turner 1978:215)

67. *T Prunella vulgaris, self-heal, heal-all.

Plant soaked in cold water to make a common drink. Turner was unable to confirm. From sea level to mid-elevations in mountains. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:406, Steedman 1930:494, Turner 1978:215)

68. *T Prunus emarginata, bitter cherry, bird cherry, wild cherry.

69. T P. pensylvanica, pin cherry, bird cherry, wild cherry.

Fruit eaten on a casual basis. P. emarginata: sea level to moderate elevations in the mountains. (Turner 1978:189)

70. T Prunus virginiana, chokecherry, wild cherry.

A very popular fruit in spite of their large stones and slight astringency. Eaten fresh, or sun-dried on mats, or mashed and dried in cake form. Cakes soaked in water before being eaten or pounded with salmon roe, heads, or tails. (Turner 1978:191-192)

71. T Pseudotsuga menziesii, Douglas fir.

Young twigs and needles made into a tea with tonic properties. Sugar -- "a white crystalline substance which forms under special circumstances on the leaves and branches of some trees" -- eaten as a confection. if gathered in sufficient quantities, preserved to use through the winter. Sometimes mixed with other foods (e.g., black tree lichen, balsamroot seeds) as sweetener. (Turner 1978:62, 64-65)

72. *LT Pteridium aquilinum, bracken fern.

Rhizomes eaten raw or peeled, roasted, and pounded into flour. Young shoots ("fiddle-heads") eaten raw, after being soaked in salt water; possibly a non-traditional food, the eating of which was learned from local Japanese. Widespread except at higher elevations. (Turner 1978:49-50)

73. *LT Pyrus fusca, wild crabapple.

Fruit eaten. Coastal bogs to mountain slopes up to 2,500 feet. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:222, Turner 1978:209)

74. *T Ribes spp, wild gooseberry.

Eaten but not highly regarded. Secured mashed wild gooseberries mixed with bitterroot from Okanagan in trade for dried salmon. Some species on wooded mountain ridges; others on lower mountains; others on wooded hillsides. (Turner 1978:164-165)

75. LT Ribes bracteosum, stink currants.

Eaten though not often. Seldom dried or stored for winter. (Turner 1978:163)

76. T Ribes cereum, squaw currant.

Rather tasteless and dry berries eaten fresh. Not dried or stored for winter. Eaten also to relieve diarrhea and gain strength. (Turner 1978:162)

77. *T Ribes hudsonianum, northern black currant, wild black currant, Hudson Bay currant.

Eaten; liked by some people but not by others. At the edge of mountain meadows. (Turner 1978:162-163)

78. **T Ribes lacustre, swamp gooseberry.

Small berries, used fresh or cooked. Sea level to subalpine forest. (Turner 1978:166-167)

79. T Ribes sanguineum, red-flowering currant.

Usually mixed with black currants or other fruit. Not often eaten and rarely dried for winter. (Turner 1978:163)

80. T Ribes viscosissimum, sticky currant.

Eaten infrequently. Seldom dried and stored for winter use. (Turner 1978:163)

81. T Rosa spp, wild rose.

Outside rind of hips eaten casually or as scarcity food. Tea made from leaves, branches, and inner bark. Leaves and bark of R. gymnocarpa toasted, dried, and powdered and then smoked. (Turner 1978:197)

82. T Rubus idaeus, wild raspberry.

Extremely popular food. Eaten fresh or mashed and dried in cakes for winter. (Turner 1978:201)

83. T / LT Rubus leucodermis, blackcap, black raspberry, wild loganberry.

A common food. Mashed and dried in cakes. Dried berries soaked in water and eaten as dessert or mixed with dried meat or fish like pemmican. Lower Thompson peeled and ate young shoots in spring. (Turner 1978:201)

84. T Rubus parviflorus, thimbleberry.

Very popular. Soft and juicy, so seldom picked in large enough quantities to be dried for winter. Sometimes mixed with wild raspberries or blackcaps. Young shoots in spring peeled and eaten either raw or with meat in stew. (Turner 1978:204)

85. *LT Rubus spectabilis, salmonberry.

Berries eaten fresh, seldom dried. Young shoots eaten in spring. Lowlands to midmontane elevations. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:224, Turner 1978:209)

86. *LT Rubus ursinus, trailing wild blackberry.

Berries eaten but not widely available. From near the coast to midmontane elevations. (Hitch cock and Cronquist 1981:225, Turner 1978:209)

87. LT Sagittaria latifolia, arrow-head, wapato.

Secured tubers from Halkomelem people below them on the Fraser. Carried up river in large baskets. Steamed in pits or boiled like potatoes. (Turner 1978:208)

88. *T Sambucus cerulea, blue elderberry.

Large quantities of fresh berries eaten; much fruit dried for winter use. Near sea level to moderate elevations in the mountains. (Turner 1978:132-133)

89. LT Sambucus racemosa, red elderberry.

Berries steamed or boiled. Salmon sometimes soaked in red elderberry juice overnight before being baked; gave the fish an excellent taste. (Turner 1978:133)

90. T Scirpus sp.

Pollen and flowering spikes occasionally eaten, especially by children. (Steedman 1930:484, Turner 1978:68)

91. T Shepherdia argentea, silver buffalo-berry.

Berries occasionally eaten fresh or dried, although sour. (Turner 1978:211)

92. **T Shepherdia canadensis, soapberry, russet buffalo-berry, soopolailie, foamberry.

Sour, bitter berries used fresh or dried for later use by being boiled and spread on trays over small fire. in use, berries were placed in basket, water was added, and the mixture beaten to a foam with hands or a beater. Serviceberries and other sweet berries were mixed to act as sweeteners. From lowlands to subalpine forests. (Turner 1978:138-140)

93. T Sium suave, water parsnip, swamp parsnip, wild carrot, wild saccharin.

Sweet, finger-like roots washed and eaten raw or steam-cooked. Raw roots crisp and delicious. Young green shoots eaten. Dug at Nicola and Coldwater Lakes. (Turner 1978:113, 115)

94. T Smilacina racemosa, false Solomon's seal.

95. T S. stellata, star-flowered Solomon's seal.

Ripe berries of both species eaten raw; seedy but extremely sweet. (Turner 1978:90, 92-93)

96. **LT Sorbus sitchensis, Sitka mountain ash.

Berries eaten occasionally. In mountains between 2,000 and 10,000 feet. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:227, Turner 1978:209)

97. T Spiraea pyramidata, spiraea.

Stems, leaves, and flowers boiled to make tea. (Turner 1978:215)

98. T Typha latifolia, cattail, bulrush.

Long, white rhizomes eaten, after being pit-steamed. Considered one of the most delicious of spring foods. (Turner 1978:93, 95)

99. *LT Vaccinium alaskaense, Alaska blueberry.

Fruit eaten fresh or dried. Lowlands to montane environments. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:350, Turner 1978:208)

100. **T Vaccinium caespitosum, dwarf blueberry, mountain blueberry, low-bush blueberry.

Berries extremely popular, said to be sweetest, best-flavored blueberry variety. Eaten fresh as a treat or mashed and dried in cakes. A common trading item in early days. Usually at higher elevations; common above timber-line. (Turner 1978:148-149)

101. *T Vaccinium membranaceum, mountain bilberry, black mountain huckleberry, blue or black huckleberry, twin-leafed huckleberry.

Large, dark berries eaten fresh or dried under the sun or over a small fire. Mountain slopes. As "season progressed the women would venture higher into the mountains to get them." (Turner 1978:150)

102. *T Vaccinium ovalifolium, oval-leafed blueberry, mountain blueberry, high-bush blueberry.

Generally not as popular as other blueberry and huckleberry types, having coarser seeds and tending to rot easily. Eaten fresh or dried. No specific mountain habitat information; but "later in the season at higher elevations"; "usually gathered at the same time as black mountain huckleberries." Also note alternative popular name "mountain blueberry." (Turner 1978:153)

103. T Vaccinium ovatum, evergreen huckleberry.

Sweet berries much gathered according to Steedman, but Turner doubts availability to Thompson. (Steedman 1930:487, Turner 1978:209)

104. T(?) Vaccinium oxycoccus, bog cranberry, wild cranberry, moss cranberry.

Tart berries eaten raw or boiled with meat. (Turner 1978:156)

105. LT Vaccinium parvifolium, red huckleberry.

Berries eaten fresh or dried. (Turner 1978:209)

106. *T Valeriana dioica, mountain valerian.

107. **T V. sitchensis.

Dried powdered roots and leaves mixed with tobacco as flavoring. V. dioica: in mountains; V. sitchensis: at mid- and upper elevations in mountains. (Hitchcock and Cronquist 1981:455, Turner 1978:215)

108. **T Viburnum edule, highbush cranberry, squashberry.

Tart berries eaten raw, the juice swallowed and seeds discarded. From near sea level to subalpine forests. (Turner 1978:134-136)

Note that these data say nothing about differences in the quantities and quality of these subsistence plants between those of the lowlands, lower and middle mountains, and high elevations where the same plant grows in two or three areas. Nothing about the locations of the most important food plants. Nothing about the relative lengths of their seasons at different altitudes. Nothing about the levels of labor expenditure required in getting to the gathering areas, in the harvesting process, and in transporting the plants back to the camp or village. Nothing about any other elements of Thompson life that would enter into a decision as to whether to undertake a collecting journey to the high country as against securing the same food resource closer by: e.g., how the men of a party might be productively engaged while the women collected and processed the plant parts. But the fact remains that, according to the clear ethnographic record, Thompson parties frequently visited their middle and high mountains. Irrespective of whether the principal motivation for the journey was to collect vegetable materials, to hunt, or to pursue some still different goal, the women, t must be supposed, generally used this opportunity to gather whatever food plants were in season in the vicinity. Further, some plants that grew over a considerable range of altitudes attained their best form in their higher growing grounds. As Turner observes regarding Lewisia spp. in particular:

The best time to dig bitter-roots is just before the plants flower, when the buds are still tightly closed but showing a pink hue. This varies from early to late May, depending on the elevation. Different populations of bitter-root vary considerably in the size and bitterness of their roots. Generally, plants of higher elevations (over 760 m or 2,500 ft) produce larger, less bitter roots than those of the dry desert lowlands and valleys. (Turner 1978:176, 178)

There was likewise some patterned movement of plant gathering parties up the mountain slopes following the ripening of some taxa. Such was the case, for example, for the mountain bilberry (Vaccinium membranaceum):

These large, dark berries were eaten when available by all Interior Indian peoples. They were harvested from July to September, depending on the elevation; as the season progressed the women would venture higher into the mountains to get them. (Turner 1978:150)

in summary, the taxa in the above ethnobotanical catalog that are marked with asterisks were plants that were gathered by the Thompson when they left the Fraser and Thompson River valleys to pursue their subsistence quest in the mountainous sections of their country. On this evidence almost half of the food flora utilized by the tribe, 49 plants of the 108 total, were available in their mountain environment, 21 at high or very high elevations. As the information accompanying the specific plants in the inventory reveals, many mid- and high altitude floras grew also in the lower mountains. Evidently many of these mountain plants were to be found in the Skagit Valley and nearby high country within the Park confines, territory roamed over in traditional times by Thompson subsistence quest parties.

Finally, what do these data say regarding the Lower Thompson use of mountain plant foods, as opposed to use by the Thompson in general? Unfortunately, not much. lt appears that Turner obtained her Lower Thompson information, as identified in the plant catalog above, somewhat incidentally in the course of her Upper Thompson inquiry. Moreover, it is probable that she sometimes collapses into a generic "Thompson" category positive data regarding a specific plant which she secured in the field separately for the Upper and the Lower Divisions. Nevertheless, it is of interest that of her 108 subsistence taxa, 25 are explicitly mentioned as having been utilized by the Lower people. Of these 25, eight are identified as occurring in mountainous country of low or medium elevation and two in high elevation terrain. Considering the extent to which the ethnographic evidence indicates that Lower Thompson parties utilized their high territory food resources, this can only be seen as a very fragmentary assessment of their mountain plant activities. Still, since the Division homeland and the center of its village life were deep in the Fraser Canyon, where the tribe had its remarkably productive salmon fisheries, the fact that a third of their alimentary flora, as reported by Turner, grows in the mountainous regions is worth noting. However, that these ten taxa occur in the mountainous segments of Lower Thompson country does not necessarily signify that their edible products were harvested in these upland areas. In fact, eight of the ten also grow at low elevations, the two wholly high-land forms being the white-bark pine in subarctic terrain and above and the Sitka mountain ash at 2,000 foot elevations and above.

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Last Updated: 10-Nov-2016