The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Downriver Dispatches

News of Western Wahkiakum County and Naselle


October 22, 2020

Changes in the Westend:

Only Time Will Tell

It took over a thousand years of migration from western Asia to Egypt by the Hyksos (Shepherd Kings) to become the ruling majority and establish the 15th dynasty in Egypt from 1650-1550 BCE. This slow, progressive change would not even be noticed over time. Many of the Native American languages of the United States have all but disappeared with English becoming the dominant language. Much could be said of Wahkiakum and Pacific Counties.

Finnish immigration was at its zenith during the years 1870-1930 known as the Great Migration of Finns into North America. From 1890 to 1914, more than 200,000 Finnish people immigrated to the United States. Those that came to Pacific County in the late 19th and early 20th century dominated a community that was once was home to thousands of Chinookan speaking people. Those indigenous people had been displaced mainly by Finns who became the absolute majority in Naselle, Deep River, and Salmon Creek communities. Now only approximately 23 percent of those who live in the same area can claim to be a descendant of Finns.

Cathlamet was first sighted by the European explorer, Lt. W.R Broughton in 1792 during the Vancouver Expedition. In 1805, the Lewis & Clark Expedition found the Cathlamet and Wahkiakum tribes living here during their Northwest Expedition. As the Lewis & Clark Expedition began to make their way down the Columbia River they were told by the Nez Perce Indians that the Chinooks had a different culture and language. The Nez Perce chiefs also cautioned them about a rumor that the Chinooks intended to kill all of them when the expedition arrived; however, to their surprise they discovered that the Chinooks were accustomed to European goods and white traders, and their first encounter was peaceful.

The Chinook Nation consists of the five western most Tribes of Chinookan peoples. Their history and constitution has defined them as being Lower Chinook, Clatsop, Willapa, Wahkiakum and Cathlamet. The Chinook tribe spoke in the Chinookan and Penutian language that contained a large division of languages spoken near the Columbia River basin, including Chinookan, Oregon Penutian, Tsimshianic and Utian. Language was a problem for traders because as many as six languages had to be interpreted before anyone could understand each other. They overcame communication difficulties by creating a trade jargon that combined words from both Native and European languages. It became referred to as the Chinook Jargon.

Although Wahkiakum County is the third smallest county in Washington, the county has its largest population just less than 4500 since 1942. The county was created by the territorial legislature in 1854 with the first census in 1960 with a population of 42. According to the 2010 United State Census, there are 3,978 people in Wahkiakum County with the largest community being Puget Island with a population of 831 people. The county has a total area of 287 square miles with a population density of about 15 per square mile. The median age is approximately 54.

Changes have occurred in the Westend of the county economically. Diseases ravaged the local tribes virtually decimating them. This reduction in the numbers of the indigenous people caused a ripple effect in the local economy. Trading with the local tribes began to slowly be replaced by logging, fishing, and the dairy industry. Wahkiakum County’s rainy climate allows the grass to grow well enough to facilitate the idea of building a dairy farm for the early pioneers after they cut the trees down. As a result the dairy industry in the county thrived. Creameries like the Ferndale Creamery in Grays River were built to process milk into butter and other products and sent to other towns like Astoria and Cathlamet by boat.

Logging companies cleared a path for the railroad to come in. They began to clear-cut each side of the train to not only get the logs to market but to also clear an area for their logging camp. Hjalmar Hansen Klint was 17 when he came to the United States. Hjalmar and his two half-brothers, Antone and John homesteaded near each other. Hjalmar and his wife Mabyn Klint bought the home and property from the Saldern Logging Company. They remodeled the home to include indoor plumbing and electricity in the 1930s when highway State Route 4 came through and split the property.

How will historians describe this same area in a hundred or a thousand years? What group of new people will be the dominant ones? How much will the language change? English at this time had the largest vocabulary in the world surpassing the combined vocabularies of French and German. Just as Old English developed out of Western Europe, the English language of the Westend may not even be close to what it is today. Only time will tell.


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