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The Chimacum | History Files

 

November 7, 2019



If you take the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, and then drive to Port Townsend, you will likely drive through Chimacum on Highway 19. A farm near Chimacum was the source of the story "The Egg and I" by Betty MacDonald. The Egg and I begat several sequels and a number of movies, introducing Ma and Pa Kettle to the world. The road on which her farm was located has been renamed the Egg and I Road.

But Chimacum is also the source of something of a mystery. There was once a Chimacum tribe that lived nearby. Chimacum is an Anglicized form of their actual name, and is spelled at least 3 different ways depending on the writer. They are gone now. Exactly what happened isn't clear. Disease certainly took a toll of the Chimacum, but it appears that the Chimacum were finally victims of their neighbors.

The history isn't clear, and , because "history is written by the winners", it may not be accurate. Port Townsend newspaperman, historian, and author Tom Camfield tried to make sense out of it 20 years ago, and didn't come to a firm conclusion. Neither did any of the other sources I checked.

The last Chimacum appear to have been massacred by their Salish neighbors. A leader of the assault may have been the man for whom Seattle is named. The Chimacum were an awkward fit in that part of the Olympic Peninsula. They didn't speak the same language as their neighbors. They were somehow related to the Quileute who live on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, and spoke a similar language. Some versions of the story say that the Chimacum and Quileute were the original settlers of the land and were engulfed by Salish intruders. Other stories say that they were the intruders.

One story says that the Chimacum were Quileute. A very high tide engulfed their villages for an extended period. That may be a description of a tsunami, and we certainly know that tsunamis hit the Western Washington coast over the centuries. The Chimacum decided to cross the mountains and settle in a more sheltered area, and over time their dialect changed from that spoken on the other side of the mountains. Unfortunately the area into which they moved was claimed by the S'Kallam, and perhaps others.

The last stand of the Chimacum may have taken place near the beach where Chimacum Creek empties into Port Townsend Bay. That would make the location like Thermopylae where the Spartans made a last stand against the Persians. Today a park is at that location. South on the same beach is the location of the ghost town of Irondale, a town that may have been bigger than Edmonds and Mukilteo combined 100 years ago. Irondale is gone and the Chimacum are gone.

The name Irondale lives on in a neighborhood of Port Hadlock, and the name Chimacum lives on in an unincorporated community in the south end of the Quimper Peninsula.

The Chimacum were gone before Irondale was built and died. That is what fascinates me about history. Events that were momentous for those who lived them can occur and be forgotten in an instant of historic time, and be completely forgotten by the following generations who have no idea of the history that lies beneath their feet.

 

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