The Snoqualmie Indians were part of the Coastal Indians. The Snoqualmie burned the underbrush and small trees in the upper valley to create niches for bracken fern, tiger lily, native blackberries, camas bulbs and fireweed, which they gathered.
The Snoqualmie Indians hunted mountain goats. Mt. Si, the prominent peak in the east end of the valley was a good place to find them. They Indians mixed fireweed fluff with the wool of the mountain goats they killed to stretch this short supply.
In the Snoqualmie Valley there were many stands of Western Red Cedar, which the local Indians used to build shelters. The Snoqualmie did not live in teepees. They instead used ancient lumbering tools to split cedar trees into boards up to fifty feet long, four feet wide, and two inches thick. From this material they built their lodges.
They also wove cedar bark into baskets, hats, clothing, and ropes. The fine inner bark was used to start fires, and even worked into a fine material that was used to line infant diapers.
The name, Snoqualmie is the English pronunciation of the actual Salish word “Sdob-dwahibbluh,” which means, “moon”. Legend has it that when the tribe lived at the base of Mt Si, in the eastern end of the valley, the beaver, or “S’Beow,” climbed the sky and brought the trees and the fire to the earth, and made the sun for daylight and created the moon (Snoqualmie) for night. The moon was king of the heavens, and, in pursuit of his enemy and creator, the beaver, moon climbed down a rope, which broke, sending moon crashing to the valley floor, piling up in the form of a 4,190-foot mountain, the summit of which clearly outlines the human facial profile of the moon-god “Snoqualm”.
The Snoqualmie Indians were always on the alert for outside attack. Tribes from east of the Cascades sometimes raided Snoqualmie camps looking for looking for slaves. It was safer to camp in the heart of the valley away from the mountain passes where marauding Indians were likely to get you.
The best Snoqualmie Valley stories center around the falls. For nearly 5,000 years the Coastal Indians designated the upper valley above the falls, where there were no salmon, as neutral trading ground where the Indians of Eastern Washington were allowed access. The Snoqualmie tribe, a subgroup of the Coastal Indians, had a camp at the base of Mt Si, near the Snoqualmie River confluence.
As the story goes, the Coastal Indian leader, Chief Seattle, once had to emphasize that line of demarcation at the falls when Yakima Indians threatened to take over the Snoqualmie Valley. Chief Seattle invited several of the Yakima leaders, who were apparently unfamiliar with Snoqualmie topography, to follow him in their canoes down the upper Snoqualmie River to a “powwow” where Seattle said they could discuss the Yakima takeover. The proud Yakima agreed, hopped in their cottonwood canoes, and paddled downriver behind Chief Seattle. About an hour into the trip, the tiny fleet was paddling through a rocky corridor when suddenly Chief Seattle leaped from his canoe onto a rock in the middle of the river, leaving the curious Yakima with enough time to think “Huh?” but not enough time to coordinate a successful group back-paddle before being sucked over the falls.
Seattle was just a small town when curious Europeans began pushing their way up the Snohomish-Snoqualmie River into the Snoqualmie Valley in the early 1850s. The Snoqualmie Indians helped the first explorers navigate the river and carried canoes around the waterfall. European settlement of the Coastal Indian land soon reached invasive levels and spawned the “Indian Troubles” of 1855 and 1856 throughout the region. In response, the US government began sending volunteer battalions to secure at-risk remote areas like the Snoqualmie Valley while clashing with other Coastal Indians such as the Nisqually in Puget Sound.
The Snoqualmie chief, Patkanim, had long ago tried to drive the white settlers from Puget Sound, but with no success. Because he thought it was impossible to fight the whites, Patkanim decided to join them, and therefore supported the United States during the Indian Troubles of the 1850s. With the help of the local Snoqualmie Indians, a volunteer Northern Battalion established four blockhouses and stockades at strategic points in the Snoqualmie Valley for protection against attack from Indians coming over the Cascade Mountains from the east.
Patkanim sent members of his tribe to scout for the Northern Battalion and to fight against the resisting tribes. The United States offered $20 for the head of warriors from resisting tribes and $80 for the head of a chief. Heads were sent to Olympia for accounting. The Indian Troubles ended in 1856 when US soldiers with the help of the Snoqualmie Indians captured and hanged the Nisqually leader, Chief Leschi.
Patkanim had previously signed a treaty ceding to the US the Snoqualmie Valley and all land north of Elliot Bay to the Canadian border. Though the Snoqualmie Indians were granted a temporary reservation, US promises of a permanent one were never fulfilled. While the resisting Nisqually tribe was given a reservation, paid for some its land, and received federal recognition as an official tribe, it would be over 130 years before the Snoqualmie Indians even received recognition.
The first permanent white settler to move to the Snoqualmie Valley was Jeremiah Borst. After the Northern Battalion was disbanded several of those soldiers came back to the Snoqualmie Valley and squatted on land claims, but didn’t stay, opting to instead sell their land to Borst. Borst had originally come west for the California Gold Rush, and eventually wound up in the Snoqualmie Valley in 1858. He bought up a large tract of land in parts of today’s Meadowbrook, Snoqualmie, Fall City and North Bend. Borst used some of this land to raise cattle, hogs and produce. While other homesteaders gave up, Borst stayed on acquiring much of their land, too. Borst has been referred to as “The Father of the Snoqualmie Valley.”
Other settlers arrived in the 1860s and for many years the small settlement was the only one east of Seattle. The first official town plat was filled in 1889, the year the railroad was extended from the west into the valley. On June 9, 1903, the town was incorporated.
The Hop Growers Association of Seattle bought 160 acres of the original Borst property in the early 1880s. This was the site of the association’s first hop farm and drying kiln that would quickly grow into the largest business in King County. When the crops grew into 1,500 at the peak of the local hops industry, harvest time brought over 1,000 Indians from as far away as Alaska and British Columbia to work the fields. Days of picking were followed by nights of dancing and festivities at what was then the world’s largest hop ranch.
The first passenger train whistled through the upper Snoqualmie Valley in June of 1889. Townsfolk prepared food for 500 expected tourists, but over 1,000 people showed up. For entertainment a man walked a tight rope stretched over Snoqualmie Falls. With a thousand people watching he sat down on a chair and took off his pants, all without falling off the rope, which was much successful than a later Snoqualmie Falls daredevil.
Around this same time a man by the name of Charlie Anderson attracted a lot of publicity when he said he’d parachute into the canyon falls from a hot air balloon. When he opened his chute a strong air current drove him straight toward the falls and the crowd gasped. Just before dipping into the falls another current pulled him away, but unfortunately, this one set Charlie down hard on a huge boulder. Charlie died that night in a Seattle hospital.
The valley was thick with forest and there was no place to graze. So when logging picked up in the area, farmers gladly accepted money to let loggers clear their land. Local loggers established a sawmill just below Snoqualmie Falls at Tokul Creek. Indians worked the water-powered sawmill and often cranked out 10,000 board feet per day.
With the coming of the railroad the Snoqualmie Valley lumber industry expanded considerably. Railroad spur lines were laid into canyon logging camps where men fell and prepped trees 15-feet in diameter. Sawmills sprang up in the valley towns. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the subsequent need for new lumber there, accelerated the Snoqualmie Valley timber industry, which became the core of the local economy for the next seventy years.
The town of Snoqualmie picked up the pace in the 1970s with the construction and opening of Interstate 90. The city’s scenic vistas and proximity to Snoqualmie Falls has begun a significant tourist based economy in the area. A large hotel/conference center near Snoqualmie Falls (The Salish Lodge) was opened in 1988. The Puget Sound Historic Railway Association purchase and remodeling of the Depot and track, with weekend rides on the historic steam train throughout the summer.